Shhh… Everything Google – Key Announcements at the Google 2015 I/O Developer Conference

Note: The announcements start from 50:25 onwards.

And here’s a nice article from Quartz that sums up the key Google announcements:

Everything Google just announced at its I/O developer conference

Brace yourself.(Alice Truong/Quartz)

As anticipated, Google made a flurry of announcements during the two-and-a-half-hour keynote at its I/O developer conference. The company debuted the new capabilities of its next Android release, along with a photo-sharing app with unlimited storage; updates to its lo-fi virtual-reality headset made of cardboard; and much, much more.

Here’s a rundown of what was announced today:

Android M: Google didn’t reveal what the M actually stands for, but the next major release of Google’s mobile operating system will be packed with new goodies (many of which are broken out below). A feature called Chrome Custom Tab will let developers use Google’s browser within their apps, so they don’t have to build their own from scratch. M also will include more nuanced app permissions, with apps prompting users to grant or deny permissions when a feature launches, rather than at installation. (Users would be able to easily modify permissions after the fact as well.)

M’s hardware changes: Though some smartphone manufactures, such as Samsung, have already added fingerprint readers to their devices, Google is officially adding support for this in Android M. In addition, it will support USB type-C, the next-generation standard for charging and file transfer. When users plug in a USB type-C cable, they’ll be able to choose the type of connection, depending on whether they want to charge the device, use the device as a battery pack to charge another device, transfer files or photos, or connect to external devices such as keyboards.

Android Pay: Google didn’t talk about the fate of Google Wallet, but it did introduce Android Pay. Like Apple Pay, it’ll allow merchants to accept tap-to-pay transactions at the store, as well as purchases made on mobile apps. So far, about 7,000 merchants have agreed to accept Android Pay. People with Android M devices will be able to authorize payments with their fingerprints, similar to how Apple Pay works with Touch ID.

Power conservation: A new M feature called Doze will help mobile devices conserve battery life. When a device has been left unattended for an extended period, it’ll automatically enter a power-saving mode that will still allow alarms and important notifications to come through. With this feature, Google says, smartphone charges can last twice as long.

Google Photos: The company launched a new photo and video service with unlimited storage. The interface of makes it easy to scan through years of photos and can group photos of the same person over time (even back to birth, as indicated by the conference demo). The app also can be used to create collages, animations, and movies with soundtracks.

Android TV, Chromecast, and HBO Now: Playing catch-up to Apple, Google announced that HBO’s standalone streaming service, HBO Now, will head to Chromecast and Android devices. The company also revealed that it’s sold 17 million Chromecast devices, and that 20,000 apps have been built for its streaming dongle.

Android Auto: Android Now now has 35 car manufacturers on board, including GM, Hyundai, and Volkswagen. Just this week, Android Auto made its way to its first consumer car: the 2015 Hyundai Sonata.

Android Wear: Updates to Android Wear, the software used in Android smartwatches, include a low-power, always-on mode. This will let people keep useful information, such as directions, on their wrist without the display going dark. New wrist gestures will allow wearers to navigate the menus of a smartwatch so they don’t need to use both hands. And users will be able to add emoji to messages by drawing them on the watch face—the software would then detect and select the proper emoji.

Project Brillo and Weave: Based on Android, Project Brillo is Google’s underlying operating system for connected devices. Google also introduced Weave, a language that will allow internet-of-things devices to communicate with each other, with Nest products, and with smartphones.

A smarter Google Now: Google Now currently helps users plan their days, letting them know when to commute or pulling up boarding passes when they’re at the airport. But the company’s vision is to make it smarter and more actionable. The service is getting better at understanding context, so it can pull up information such as reviews or show times when a movie is referenced. In addition, with more than 100 partners on board for a pilot, it’ll be able to do things like hail an Uber or Lyft, reorder groceries from Instacart, and make restaurant reservations on OpenTable.

Faster loading and offline support: Good news for the next billion: Google has streamlined Search, Chrome, YouTube, and Maps so they work faster on slow internet connections. A more lightweight version of search on mobile is about 10 times smaller and loads 30% faster. Changes to Chrome, such as putting in placeholder images instead of loading actual ones, mean sites are about 80% smaller and use less memory. In some countries, offline access is available for Chrome, YouTube, and Maps.

Cardboard VR: Last year, Google showed off its lo-fi virtual reality headset, which can be constructed from cardboard. The headset has since been redesigned so it takes only three steps to construct and can fit phones with displays of up to 6 inches. The software developer kit will now support iOS as well as Android. Google also announced Expeditions, which will let students take field trips to far-flung parts of the globe using Cardboard.

Immersive 360-degree video: To create immersive video for virtual reality, Google previewed a new multi-camera array that can shoot videos in 360 degrees. Though the idea is to make this system, called Jump, available to anyone, Google also tapped GoPro to build and sell its own array with 16 Hero4 cameras.

Tools to test and increase exposure of apps: Cloud Test Lab, a result of Google’s acquisition last year of Appurify, will let developers easily test their apps on 20 Android devices. Universal App Campaigns will help them advertise their apps across AdMob, YouTube, and search ads in Google Play. Developers only have to set their ad budgets and specify how much they want to spend to add each new user. Google also will offer granular analytics for Google Play listings, so developers know if the photos they’ve chosen are attracting (or deterring) new users.

Shhh… Bruce Schneier on How We Sold Our Souls & Privacy to Internet Giants

It’s simple. Whenever Bruce Schneier speaks, listen.

How we sold our souls – and more – to the internet giants

Bruce Schneier
Sunday 17 May 2015 11.00 BST

Last year, when my refrigerator broke, the repair man replaced the computer that controls it. I realised that I had been thinking about the refrigerator backwards: it’s not a refrigerator with a computer, it’s a computer that keeps food cold. Just like that, everything is turning into a computer. Your phone is a computer that makes calls. Your car is a computer with wheels and an engine. Your oven is a computer that cooks lasagne. Your camera is a computer that takes pictures. Even our pets and livestock are now regularly chipped; my cat could be considered a computer that sleeps in the sun all day.

Computers are being embedded into all sort of products that connect to the internet. Nest, which Google purchased last year for more than $3bn, makes an internet-enabled thermostat. You can buy a smart air conditioner that learns your preferences and maximises energy efficiency. Fitness tracking devices, such as Fitbit or Jawbone, collect information about your movements, awake and asleep, and use that to analyse both your exercise and sleep habits. Many medical devices are starting to be internet-enabled, collecting and reporting a variety of biometric data. There are – or will be soon – devices that continually measure our vital signs, moods and brain activity.

This year, we have had two surprising stories of technology monitoring our activity: Samsung televisions that listen to conversations in the room and send them elsewhere for transcription – just in case someone is telling the TV to change the channel – and a Barbie that records your child’s questions and sells them to third parties.

All these computers produce data about what they’re doing and a lot of it is surveillance data. It’s the location of your phone, who you’re talking to and what you’re saying, what you’re searching and writing. It’s your heart rate. Corporations gather, store and analyse this data, often without our knowledge, and typically without our consent. Based on this data, they draw conclusions about us that we might disagree with or object to and that can affect our lives in profound ways. We may not like to admit it, but we are under mass surveillance.

Internet surveillance has evolved into a shockingly extensive, robust and profitable surveillance architecture. You are being tracked pretty much everywhere you go, by many companies and data brokers: 10 different companies on one website, a dozen on another. Facebook tracks you on every site with a Facebook Like button (whether you’re logged in to Facebook or not), while Google tracks you on every site that has a Google Plus g+ button or that uses Google Analytics to monitor its own web traffic.

Most of the companies tracking you have names you’ve never heard of: Rubicon Project, AdSonar, Quantcast, Undertone, Traffic Marketplace. If you want to see who’s tracking you, install one of the browser plug-ins that let you monitor cookies. I guarantee you will be startled. One reporter discovered that 105 different companies tracked his internet use during one 36-hour period. In 2010, the seemingly innocuous site Dictionary.com installed more than 200 tracking cookies on your browser when you visited.

It’s no different on your smartphone. The apps there track you as well. They track your location and sometimes download your address book, calendar, bookmarks and search history. In 2013, the rapper Jay Z and Samsung teamed up to offer people who downloaded an app the ability to hear the new Jay Z album before release. The app required that users give Samsung consent to view all accounts on the phone, track its location and who the user was talking to. The Angry Birds game even collects location data when you’re not playing. It’s less Big Brother and more hundreds of tittletattle little brothers.

Most internet surveillance data is inherently anonymous, but companies are increasingly able to correlate the information gathered with other information that positively identifies us. You identify yourself willingly to lots of internet services. Often you do this with only a username, but increasingly usernames can be tied to your real name. Google tried to enforce this with its “real name policy”, which required users register for Google Plus with their legal names, until it rescinded that policy in 2014. Facebook pretty much demands real names. Whenever you use your credit card number to buy something, your real identity is tied to any cookies set by companies involved in that transaction. And any browsing you do on your smartphone is tied to you as the phone’s owner, although the website might not know it.

Surveillance is the business model of the internet for two primary reasons: people like free and people like convenient. The truth is, though, that people aren’t given much of a choice. It’s either surveillance or nothing and the surveillance is conveniently invisible so you don’t have to think about it. And it’s all possible because laws have failed to keep up with changes in business practices.

In general, privacy is something people tend to undervalue until they don’t have it anymore. Arguments such as “I have nothing to hide” are common, but aren’t really true. People living under constant surveillance quickly realise that privacy isn’t about having something to hide. It’s about individuality and personal autonomy. It’s about being able to decide who to reveal yourself to and under what terms. It’s about being free to be an individual and not having to constantly justify yourself to some overseer.

This tendency to undervalue privacy is exacerbated by companies deliberately making sure that privacy is not salient to users. When you log on to Facebook, you don’t think about how much personal information you’re revealing to the company; you chat with your friends. When you wake up in the morning, you don’t think about how you’re going to allow a bunch of companies to track you throughout the day; you just put your cell phone in your pocket.

But by accepting surveillance-based business models, we hand over even more power to the powerful. Google controls two-thirds of the US search market. Almost three-quarters of all internet users have Facebook accounts. Amazon controls about 30% of the US book market, and 70% of the ebook market. Comcast owns about 25% of the US broadband market. These companies have enormous power and control over us simply because of their economic position.

Our relationship with many of the internet companies we rely on is not a traditional company-customer relationship. That’s primarily because we’re not customers – we’re products those companies sell to their real customers. The companies are analogous to feudal lords and we are their vassals, peasants and – on a bad day – serfs. We are tenant farmers for these companies, working on their land by producing data that they in turn sell for profit.

Yes, it’s a metaphor, but it often really feels like that. Some people have pledged allegiance to Google. They have Gmail accounts, use Google Calendar and Google Docs and have Android phones. Others have pledged similar allegiance to Apple. They have iMacs, iPhones and iPads and let iCloud automatically synchronise and back up everything. Still others let Microsoft do it all. Some of us have pretty much abandoned email altogether for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We might prefer one feudal lord to the others. We might distribute our allegiance among several of these companies or studiously avoid a particular one we don’t like. Regardless, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to avoid pledging allegiance to at least one of them.

After all, customers get a lot of value out of having feudal lords. It’s simply easier and safer for someone else to hold our data and manage our devices. We like having someone else take care of our device configurations, software management, and data storage. We like it when we can access our email anywhere, from any computer, and we like it that Facebook just works, from any device, anywhere. We want our calendar entries to appear automatically on all our devices. Cloud storage sites do a better job of backing up our photos and files than we can manage by ourselves; Apple has done a great job of keeping malware out of its iPhone app store. We like automatic security updates and automatic backups; the companies do a better job of protecting our devices than we ever did. And we’re really happy when, after we lose a smartphone and buy a new one, all of our data reappears on it at the push of a button.

In this new world of computing, we’re no longer expected to manage our computing environment. We trust the feudal lords to treat us well and protect us from harm. It’s all a result of two technological trends.

The first is the rise of cloud computing. Basically, our data is no longer stored and processed on our computers. That all happens on servers owned by many different companies. The result is that we no longer control our data. These companies access our data—both content and metadata—for whatever profitable purpose they want. They have carefully crafted terms of service that dictate what sorts of data we can store on their systems, and can delete our entire accounts if they believe we violate them. And they turn our data over to law enforcement without our knowledge or consent. Potentially even worse, our data might be stored on computers in a country whose data protection laws are less than rigorous.

The second trend is the rise of user devices that are managed closely by their vendors: iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Kindles, ChromeBooks, and the like. The result is that we no longer control our computing environment. We have ceded control over what we can see, what we can do, and what we can use. Apple has rules about what software can be installed on iOS devices. You can load your own documents onto your Kindle, but Amazon is able to delete books it has already sold you. In 2009, Amazon automatically deleted some editions of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from users’ Kindles because of a copyright issue. I know, you just couldn’t write this stuff any more ironically.

It’s not just hardware. It’s getting hard to just buy a piece of software and use it on your computer in any way you like. Increasingly, vendors are moving to a subscription model—Adobe did that with Creative Cloud in 2013—that gives the vendor much more control. Microsoft hasn’t yet given up on a purchase model, but is making its MS Office subscription very attractive. And Office 365’s option of storing your documents in the Microsoft cloud is hard to turn off. Companies are pushing us in this direction because it makes us more profitable as customers or users.

Given current laws, trust is our only option. There are no consistent or predictable rules. We have no control over the actions of these companies. I can’t negotiate the rules regarding when Yahoo will access my photos on Flickr. I can’t demand greater security for my presentations on Prezi or my task list on Trello. I don’t even know the cloud providers to whom those companies have outsourced their infrastructures. If any of those companies delete my data, I don’t have the right to demand it back. If any of those companies give the government access to my data, I have no recourse. And if I decide to abandon those services, chances are I can’t easily take my data with me.

Political scientist Henry Farrell observed: “Much of our life is conducted online, which is another way of saying that much of our life is conducted under rules set by large private businesses, which are subject neither to much regulation nor much real market competition.”

The common defence is something like “business is business”. No one is forced to join Facebook or use Google search or buy an iPhone. Potential customers are choosing to enter into these quasi-feudal user relationships because of the enormous value they receive from them. If they don’t like it, goes the argument, they shouldn’t do it.

This advice is not practical. It’s not reasonable to tell people that if they don’t like their data being collected, they shouldn’t email, shop online, use Facebook or have a mobile phone. I can’t imagine students getting through school anymore without an internet search or Wikipedia, much less finding a job afterwards. These are the tools of modern life. They’re necessary to a career and a social life. Opting out just isn’t a viable choice for most of us, most of the time; it violates what have become very real norms of contemporary life.

Right now, choosing among providers is not a choice between surveillance or no surveillance, but only a choice of which feudal lords get to spy on you. This won’t change until we have laws to protect both us and our data from these sorts of relationships. Data is power and those that have our data have power over us. It’s time for government to step in and balance things out.

Adapted from Data and Goliath by Bruce Schneier, published by Norton Books. To order a copy for £17.99 go to bookshop.theguardian.com. Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and CTO of Resilient Systems Inc. He blogs at schneier.com, and tweets at @schneierblog

Shhh… Windows 10 – "Windows Hello" Biometric Authentication Technology has Potential Serious Security Loopholes

Something is fundamentally wrong…

The new Windows 10, reportedly to be released this summer, comes with Windows Hello, which will log in users with biometric authentication, ie. the technology will unlock the devices by using the users’ face, fingerprint or iris which Microsoft label as “more personal and more secure” with security and privacy accounted for.

Well, let’s see how this would last. Recall Apple’s fingerprint reading technology on its previous iPhones was hacked within 24 hours.

And speaking of facial recognition, I know someone whose six year old son managed to fool a Samsung smartphone because of the resemblance to his mother. All it took for him was to stare at her mom’s phone while she was asleep and… Bingo!

So here’s my question: what about identical twins?

Good luck, Windows 10.

Shhh… Snowden's Privacy Apps and Programs

Use only end-to-end encryption programs and apps like SpiderOak, Signal, RedPhone and TextSecure, according to Snowden – see article below.

And never ever anything like Dropbox, Facebook and Google, as he has previously stressed (watch this video clip):

The apps Edward Snowden recommends to protect your privacy online

Mar 05, 2015 9:57 AM ET
Andrea Bellemare, CBC News

There are a host of free, easy-to-use apps and programs that can help protect your privacy online, and if everybody uses them it can provide a sort of “herd immunity” said Edward Snowden in a live video chat from Russia on Wednesday.

Snowden appeared via teleconference in an event hosted by Ryerson University and Canadian Journalists For Expression, to launch the CJFE’s online database that compiles all of the publicly released classified documents the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor leaked. In response to a Twitter question,Snowden expanded on what tools he recommends for privacy.

“I hardly touch communications for anything that could be considered sensitive just because it’s extremely risky,” said Snowden.

But Snowden did go on to outline a few free programs that can help protect your privacy.

“You need to ensure your communications are protected in transit,” said Snowden. “It’s these sort of transit interceptions that are the cheapest, that are the easiest, and they scale the best.”

Snowden recommended using programs and apps that provide end-to-end encryption for users, which means the computer on each end of the transaction can access the data, but not any device in between, and the information isn’t stored unencrypted on a third-party server.

​”SpiderOak doesn’t have the encryption key to see what you’ve uploaded,” said Snowden, who recommends using it instead of a file-sharing program like Dropbox. “You don’t have to worry about them selling your information to third parties, you don’t have to worry about them providing that information to governments.”

“For the iPhone, there’s a program called Signal, by Open Whisper Systems, it’s very good,” said Snowden.

He also recommended RedPhone, which allows Android users to make encrypted phone calls, and TextSecure, a private messenging app by Open Whisper Systems.

“I wouldn’t trust your lives with any of these things, they don’t protect you from metadata association but they do strongly protect your content from precisely this type of in-transit interception,” said Snowden.

He emphasized that encryption is for everyone, not just people with extremely sensitive information.

“The more you do this, the more you get your friends, your family, your associates to adopt these free and easy-to-use technologies, the less stigma is associated with people who are using encrypted communications who really need them,” said Snowden. “We’re creating a kind of herd immunity that helps protect everybody, everywhere.”

Shhh… What Can You Do If Airport Checkpoints Demand for Your Smartphone Password?

Ever wonder if this could happen to you? A Canadian man was charged for not revealing the password of his smartphone when requested by airport’s border officials.

I wrote in an earlier column about how spies cope with airport security checkpoints but what can you do if you anticipate this (see article below) could happen to you at the airport?

I reckon at the very least, reset the password to your phone before you reached the checkpoint. If your phone has an external SD card, transfer all your files to the card before you remove and replace it with a spare and ideally empty SD card – hide the files-loaded SD card deep inside your hand-carry bag. And bingo if you have a spare or expired SIM card…

You have then done the best you could to preserve your privacy. Good luck.

Quebec resident Alain Philippon to fight charge for not giving up phone password at airport

Whether border officials can force you to provide password hasn’t been tested in Canadian courts

By Jack Julian, CBC News Posted: Mar 04, 2015 9:32 PM AT Last Updated: Mar 05, 2015 2:05 PM AT

A Quebec man charged with obstructing border officials by refusing to give up his smartphone password says he will fight the charge.

The case has raised a new legal question in Canada, a law professor says.

Alain Philippon, 38, of Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Que., refused to divulge his cellphone password to Canada Border Services Agency during a customs search Monday night at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Philippon had arrived in Halifax on a flight from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. He’s been charged under section 153.1 (b) of the Customs Act for hindering or preventing border officers from performing their role under the act.

According to the CBSA, the minimum fine for the offence is $1,000, with a maximum fine of $25,000 and the possibility of a year in jail.

Philippon did not want to be interviewed but said he intends to fight the charge since he considers the information on his phone to be “personal.”

The CBSA wouldn’t say why Philippon was selected for a smartphone search.

In an email, a border services spokesperson wrote, “Officers are trained in examination, investigative and questioning techniques. To divulge our approach may render our techniques ineffective. Officers are trained to look for indicators of deception and use a risk management approach in determining which goods may warrant a closer look.”​

Rob Currie, director of the Law and Technology Institute at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, said that under Canadian law, travellers crossing the Canadian border have a reduced expectation of privacy.

He said border officials have wide-ranging powers to search travellers and their belongings.

“Under the Customs Act, customs officers are allowed to inspect things that you have, that you’re bringing into the country,” he told CBC News. “The term used in the act is ‘goods,’ but that certainly extends to your cellphone, to your tablet, to your computer, pretty much anything you have.”

Philippon has been released on bail, and will return to court in Dartmouth on May 12 for election and plea.


Not tested yet in court

Currie said the issue of whether a traveller must reveal a password to an electronic device at the border hasn’t been tested by a court.

“This is a question that has not been litigated in Canada, whether they can actually demand you to hand over your password to allow them to unlock the device,” he said. “[It’s] one thing for them to inspect it, another thing for them to compel you to help them.”

Currie said the obstruction case hinges on that distinction.

“[It’s] a very interesting one to watch.”

Shhh… US in Long Battle As China Request Source Code From Western Technology Companies

This spat on intrusive rules is going to be a huge long battle.

The US is voicing opposition to Chinese rules that foreign vendors hand over the source code if they were to supply computer equipments to Chinese banks – which could expand to other sectors as the matter is “part of a wider review”.

Other measures to comply with include the setting up of research and development centers in China and building “ports” for Chinese officials to manage and monitor the data processed by their hardware.

Submitting to these “intrusive rules” for a slice of the huge Chinese markets also means alienating the rest of the world – as complying with these rules means creating backdoors, adopting Chinese encryption algorithms and disclosing sensitive intellectual property.

Find out more from this video:

US-China Spat on Intrusive Rules – And Actual Intrusions

Speaking of “intrusive rules” (see BBC report far below) and “actual intrusions” in China, the latter I have expanded recently in two articles – one on Apple yesterday and the other on VPN blocks last week – and merged in this new column I’m also pasting right below.

The long and short of it, it’s espionage made easy. Period.


Apple Lets Down Its Asia Users

Written by Vanson Soo
MON,02 FEBRUARY 2015

Knuckling under to China on security inspections

If you are a die-hard fan of Apple products and if you, your company or business have anything to do with mainland China, recent developments involving the US tech giant can be construed as bad news, with deeper implications than what was generally thought and reported.

First, about Apple.

I have always liked the beauty and elegance of Apple products. I have owned two Mac laptops and an iPhone but I have shunned them as anyone deeply conscious and concerned about privacy and security should do. Edward Snowden, for example, who laid bare extensive snooping by the US National Security Agency, recently said he had never used the iPhone given the existence of secret surveillance spyware hidden in the devices.

Consider the latest news that Apple Inc. has caved in to Chinese demands for security inspections of its China-made devices including iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. The move understandably makes business sense to Apple [and its shareholders] as China is just too huge a market to ignore – so the Cupertino-based company [whose market capitalization hit US$683 billion last week, more than double Microsoft’s US$338 billion] realized it simply couldn’t ignore Beijing’s “concerns” about national security arising from the iPhone’s ability to zero in onto a user’s location.

Now pause right there. No, there’s no typo above. And yes, the Android and Blackberry smartphones can also mark a user’s location. So what’s the catch? Figure that out – it’s not difficult.

What Apple found they can ignore is the privacy and security of its die-hard users – after all, it has been well documented that Apple users were [and probably still are] known for their cult-like loyalty to the brand. Look no further for evidence than last summer when Apple announced its plan to host some of its data from its China-based users on servers based inside the country and claimed the company was not concerned about any security risks from using servers hosted by China Telecom, one of the three state-owned Chinese carriers.

The company has also denied working with any government agencies to create back doors into its products or servers… So surrendering to security audits wouldn’t?

If only Apple users managed to chuck away their cult mentality and come to their senses about their privacy and security risks, the firm would realize the Google approach, though still not perfect, is a better way of cultivating brand loyalty.

And in case you’re wondering, I use Linux most of the time – and shun the most popular Linux distributions to be on the safe side.a

Now next. And this is bad news with far-reaching global implications – and it’s affecting not just only those based in China.

News surfaced in late January that some foreign-based virtual private network (VPN) vendors found their services in China had been disrupted following a government crackdown – which the authorities labeled as an “upgrade” of its Internet censorship – to block the use of VPNs as a way to escape the so-called Great Firewall.

The real impact is not merely on domestic residents who were cut off from YouTube, BBC/CNN news and other information sources but resident expatriates, multinationals, foreign embassies and those traveling to China, especially businessmen and executives. Think: Chinese espionage now made easy!

Many China-based internet users use VPNs to access external news sources but this is also bad news for companies and government offices based in China as well as anyone visiting the Chinese mainland – as many businessmen and executives use VPNs, as part of their company (and security) practice, on their business trips. Many foreigners and businesses residing in China also use VPNs for their day-to-day communications.

The VPNs provide an encrypted pipe between a computer or smartphone and an overseas server such that any communications would be channeled through it, which effectively shields internet traffic from government filters that have set criteria on what sites can be accessed.

And as China is fast moving beyond the “factories of the world” tag to become a global economic powerhouse and important trading partner to many developed and developing countries, this is one development to keep a close watch on.

Obama-XiJinping5

29 January 2015 Last updated at 14:35

US tech firms ask China to postpone ‘intrusive’ rules

By Kevin Rawlinson BBC News

US business groups are seeking “urgent discussions” over new Chinese rules requiring foreign firms to hand over source code and other measures.

The groups wrote to senior government officials after the introduction of the cybersecurity regulations at the end of last year.

The US Chamber of Commerce and other groups called the rules “intrusive”.

The regulations initially apply to firms selling products to Chinese banks but are part of a wider review.

“An overly broad, opaque, discriminatory approach to cybersecurity policy that restricts global internet and ICT products and services would ultimately isolate Chinese ICT firms from the global marketplace and weaken cybersecurity, thereby harming China’s economic growth and development and restricting customer choice,” the letter read.

The groups said that the rules would force technology sellers to create backdoors for the Chinese government, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms and disclose sensitive intellectual property.

Firms planning to sell computer equipment to Chinese banks would also have to set up research and development centres in the country, get permits for workers servicing technology equipment and build “ports” which enable Chinese officials to manage and monitor data processed by their hardware, Reuters reported.

Source code is the usually tightly guarded series of commands that create programs. For most computing and networking equipment, it would have to be turned over to officials, according to the new regulations.

Tension

In the letter, a copy of which has been seen by the BBC, the groups have asked the Chinese government to delay implementation of the regulations and “grant an opportunity for discussion and dialogue for interested stakeholders with agencies responsible for the initiatives”.

They added: “The domestic purchasing and related requirements proposed recently for China’s banking sector… would unnecessarily restrict the ability of Chinese entities to source the most reliable and secure technologies, which are developed in the global supply chain,” the letter, which was dated 28 January, read.

The letter from the American groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce, AmCham China and 16 others, was addressed to the Central Leading Small Group for Cyberspace Affairs, which is led personally by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

It comes at a time of heightened tension between the USA and China over cybersecurity. In May last year, Beijing denounced US charges against Chinese army officers accused of economic cyber-espionage.

Pressure

It was also alleged that the US National Security Agency spied on Chinese firm Huawei, while the US Senate claimed that the Chinese government broke into the computers of airlines and military contractors.

American tech firms, such as Cisco and Microsoft, are facing increased pressure from Chinese authorities to accept rigorous security checks before their products can be purchased by China’s sprawling, state-run financial institutions.

Beijing has considered its reliance on foreign technology a national security weakness, particularly following former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations that US spy agencies planted code in American-made software to snoop on overseas targets.

The cyber-space policy group approved a 22-page document in late 2014 that contained the heightened procurement rules for tech vendors, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

From Apple With Love – Granting Chinese Security Audits Leaves More Deep & Profound Implications Than Betrayal of Apple Die-Hards

I always like the beauty and elegance of Apple products (I had 2 Mac laptops and 1 iPhone) but I have to admit I have already shunned them as anyone deeply conscious and concerned about privacy and security should do – Snowden, for example, recently said he never used the iPhone given the existence of secret surveillance spyware in the devices.

Consider the latest news that Apple Inc. has caved in to Chinese demands for security inspections of its China-made devices like the iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. The move understandably makes business sense to Apple (and its shareholders) as China is just too huge a market to ignore – so the Cupertino-based company (whose market capitalization hit $683 billion last week, more than double Microsoft’s $338 billion) realized it simply can’t ignore Beijing’s “concerns” about national security arising from the iPhone’s ability to zero in onto a user’s location.

Now pause right there. No, there’s no typo above. And yes, the Android and Blackberry smartphones can also mark a user’s location. So what’s the catch? Figure that out – it’s not difficult.

And what Apple found they can ignore is the privacy and security of its die-hard users – after all, it has been well-documented Apple users were (and probably still are) well known for their “cult” like loyalty to the brand. Look no further for evidence than last summer when Apple announced its plan to host some of its data from its China-based users on servers based inside the country and claimed the company was not concerned about any security risks from using servers hosted by China Telecom, one of the three state-owned Chinese carriers. The company has also denied working with any government agencies to create back doors into its products or servers… (So surrendering to security audits wouldn’t?)

If only Apple users somewhat managed to chuck away their cult mentality and come to their senses (about their privacy and security risks), the US tech giant would realize the Google approach (though still not the perfect example) is a better way to cultivating brand loyalty (see article below).

And in case you’re wondering, I use laptops with no parts made in China along with Linux most of the time – and shun the most popular Linux distributions to be on the safe side.


Apple’s New Security Concessions to Beijing

By Doug Young | January 27, 2015, 10:13 AM

Apple is deepening its uneasy embrace of Beijing security officials, with word that it has agreed to allow security audits for products that it sells in China. This latest development comes less than a year after Apple took the unusual step of moving some of the user information it collects to China-based servers, which was also aimed at placating security-conscious regulators in Beijing.

Apple’s increasingly close cooperation with Beijing contrasts sharply with Google, whose popular Internet products and services are increasingly being locked out of China as it refuses to play by Beijing’s rules. Other global tech giants are also having to deal with the delicate situation, each taking a slightly different approach to try to protect user privacy while complying with Beijing’s insistence that they make their information available to security-conscious government regulators.

As a relatively neutral observer, I can sympathize with both the Apples and Googles of the world. Companies like Apple have decided that China is simply too large for them to ignore, and thus are taking steps to address Beijing’s security concerns as a condition for access to the huge market. Microsoft has also taken a similar tack, and Facebook is showing it will also be willing to play by such rules with its recent repeated lobbying for a chance to set up a China-based service.

Google has taken a more defiant stance by refusing to compromise user privacy and free speech, with the result that a growing number of its products and services are now blocked in China. The company shuttered its China-based search website in 2010 over a dispute with Beijing on self censorship. Last year many of its global sites and even its Gmail email service also became increasingly difficult to access for users in China.

Apple isn’t being nearly so defiant, and the latest headlines say it has agreed to the audits of its products by the State Internet Information Office. The reports say Apple agreed to the audits when CEO Tim Cook met with State Internet Information Office official Lu Wei during a December trip to the U.S. I previously wrote about Lu’s trip after photos appeared on an official Chinese government website showing him visiting the offices of Facebook, Apple, and also Amazon.

Lu reportedly told Cook that China needs to be sure that Apple’s popular iPhones, iPads, and other products protect user privacy and also don’t compromise national security. Unlike other PC and cellphone makers that simply sell their devices to consumers, Apple actively keeps records of its product users and some of their usage habits and other related information on remote computers.

This latest move looks like an extension of another one last summer, which saw Apple agree to host some of the data from its China-based users on servers based inside the country. That move also looked aimed at calming national security worries from Beijing, since storing such information on China-based computers would make it more accessible to investigators conducting security-related probes.

In an interesting twist to the story, this latest report comes from a state-owned newspaper in Beijing, making it a sort of semi-official disclosure of China’s approach to the matter. That would follow the government’s own announcement of Lu Wei’s December trip, and perhaps shows that Beijing wants to be more open about steps it’s taking to address national security threats like terrorism. That kind of more open attitude could help both domestic and foreign companies to better navigate China’s tricky cyber realm, though it won’t be of much help to defiant companies like Google that are more intent on protecting free speech and user privacy.

Shhh… Snowden: iPhone has Secret Surveillance Spyware that Can Be Remotely Controlled

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed last week that he doesn’t use an iPhone because the Apple device has a secret surveillance spyware controlled by the US intelligence agency.

Obama: Why is Your Blackberry Super-Encrypted & You Want to Ban the World from Using Encryption?

Let’s have a different take on Obama and his endorsement (of Cameron’s drive) to kill encryption.

Obama is not allowed to use an iPhone because it’s “not safe”, the NSA advised him – Edward Snowden has recently said the iPhone was made to remotely track and transmit data about users.

Obama uses a Blackberry because of its reputation for security. But it’s still not safe enough, so his device was further encrypted though experts warned it’s still no absolute guarantee.

So Mr. President, you understand very well the value of encryption and privacy. And you want to ban encryption in the name of national security when you knew very well the terrorists you’re after are very apt at finding alternatives (remember Osama bin Laden?), including using primitive channels like typewriters, paper and pen, etc?

And at the same time, you’re crippling the entire world – companies, individuals and government (what did Merkel tell you?) – with the floodgates thrown open to cyber-criminals and hackers?

Reckon you can see that the equation doesn’t add up?

Shhh… DOJ Uses 18th Century Law to Make Apple Unlock Encrypted iPhones

It’s time to raise the antenna again on smartphone encryption matters.

Law enforcement agencies, particularly the FBI, have been desperately pressurizing the Congress to force Apple and Google to do away with their new default smartphone encryption. And authorities are apparently giving in.

According to an exclusive report by Ars Technica (below) earlier this week, court documents from 2 federal criminal cases in New York and California show the US Department of Justice on October 31 this year went as far as exercising a 18th century law – the All Writs Act – to compel Apple and at least one other company to cooperate with law enforcement officials in investigations dealing with locked and encrypted smartphones.

The 225-year-old law gives the courts the right to issue whatever writs or orders in order to compel someone to do something.

To the extent that Apple has recently beefed up encryption in its latest iOS 8, the fact that the DOJ would go to such absurd lengths might set worrying precedence – recall a recent ludicrous DOJ assertion that the new encryption standards would kill a child.

A more disturbing question: What would you do if you were FBI director James Comey making his rounds to denounce smartphone encryption?

Make the DOJ use the All Writs Act to force manufacturers to install convenient backdoors. Why not?

—————————————-

Feds want Apple’s help to defeat encrypted phones, new legal case shows

Prosecutors invoke 18th-century All Writs Act to get around thorny problem.
by Cyrus Farivar – Dec 1 2014, 10:00pm CST

OAKLAND, CA—Newly discovered court documents from two federal criminal cases in New York and California that remain otherwise sealed suggest that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is pursuing an unusual legal strategy to compel cellphone makers to assist investigations.

In both cases, the seized phones—one of which is an iPhone 5S—are encrypted and cannot be cracked by federal authorities. Prosecutors have now invoked the All Writs Act, an 18th-century federal law that simply allows courts to issue a writ, or order, which compels a person or company to do something.

Some legal experts are concerned that these rarely made public examples of the lengths the government is willing to go in defeating encrypted phones raise new questions as to how far the government can compel a private company to aid a criminal investigation.

Two federal judges agree that the phone manufacturer in each case—one of which remains sealed, one of which is definitively Apple—should provide aid to the government.

Ars is publishing the documents in the California case for the first time in which a federal judge in Oakland specifically notes that “Apple is not required to attempt to decrypt, or otherwise enable law enforcement’s attempts to access any encrypted data.”

The two orders were both handed down on October 31, 2014, about six weeks after Apple announced that it would be expanding encryption under iOS 8, which aims to render such a data handover to law enforcement useless. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that DOJ officials told Apple that it was “marketing to criminals” and that “a child will die” because of Apple’s security design choices.

Apple did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.

Meet the “All Writs Act”

Alex Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, wondered if the government could invoke the All Writs Act to “compel Master Lock to come to your house and break [a physical lock] open.”

“That’s kind of like the question of could the government compel your laptop maker to unlock your disk encryption?” he said. “And I think those are very complicated questions, and if so, then that’s complicated constitutional questions whether the government can conscript them to be their agents. Then there’s one further question: can the government use the All Writs Act to compel the installation of backdoors?”

But, if Apple really can’t decrypt the phone as it claims, the point is moot.

“Then that’s pretty much the end of it,” Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ars. “The writ doesn’t require Apple to do something that is impossible for it to do.”

Andrew Crocker, a legal fellow also at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out on Twitter on Tuesday that back in 2005, a different New York magistrate refused to accept the government’s invocation of the All Writs Act to obtain real-time cell site data.

As Magistrate Judge James Orenstein wrote at the time:

Thus, as far as I can tell, the government proposes that I use the All Writs Act in an entirely unprecedented way. To appreciate just how unprecedented the argument is, it is necessary to recognize that the government need only run this Hail Mary play if its arguments under the electronic surveillance and disclosure statutes fail.

The government thus asks me to read into the All Writs Act an empowerment of the judiciary to grant the executive branch authority to use investigative techniques either explicitly denied it by the legislative branch, or at a minimum omitted from a far-reaching and detailed statutory scheme that has received the legislature’s intensive and repeated consideration. Such a broad reading of the statute invites an exercise of judicial activism that is breathtaking in its scope and fundamentally inconsistent with my understanding of the extent of my authority.

“Any capabilities [Apple] may have to unlock the iPhone”

One of the new phone search cases was filed in federal court in Oakland, just across the bay from San Francisco, while another was filed in federal court in Manhattan.

In the Oakland case, prosecutors asked a federal judge in to “assist in the execution of a federal search warrant by facilitating the un-locking of an iPhone.”

Ars went in person to the Oakland courthouse on Wednesday to obtain the documents and is publishing both the government’s application and the judge’s order for the first time here. The All Writs Act application and order are not available via PACER, the online database for federal court records.

“This Court has the authority to order Apple, Inc., to use any capabilities it may have to unlock the iPhone,” Garth Hire, an assistant US attorney, wrote to the court and cited the All Writs Act.

“The government is aware, and can represent, that in other cases, courts have ordered the unlocking of an iPhone under this authority,” he wrote. “Additionally, Apple has routinely complied with such orders.”

“This court should issue the order because doing so would enable agents to comply with this Court’s warrant commanding that the iPhone be examined for evidence identified by the warrant,” he continued. “Examination of the iPhone without Apple’s assistance, if it is possible at all, would require significant resources and may harm the iPhone. Moreover, the order is not likely to place any unreasonable burden on Apple.”

In response, Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore ordered that Apple “provide reasonable technical assistance to enable law enforcement agents to obtain access to unencrypted data.” She did not specifically mention the All Writs Act.

But she added:


It is further ordered that, to the extent that data on the iOS device is encrypted, Apple may provide a copy of the encrypted data to law enforcement but Apple is not required to attempt to decrypt, or otherwise enable law enforcement’s attempts to access any encrypted data.

Westmore’s language is a near-duplicate of a June 6, 2014 order issued by a different judge from the Northern California district, San Jose division, which is about 40 miles south of Oakland. There, Magistrate Judge Howard Lloyd ordered Apple to assist in the search of an iPad Mini, months before the release of iOS 8.

New spying tools afoot

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported on an order issued by a federal magistrate in New York in a case involving alleged credit card fraud.

In that Manhattan case, Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein granted the government’s proposed order on the same day as Westmore (October 31, 2014), also citing the All Writs Act, which compels the unnamed phone manufacturer to provide “reasonable technical assistance” in unlocking the device.

The mystery company could challenge the judge’s order, according to Brian Owsley, a former federal magistrate judge who now is a law professor at Indiana Tech.

“Unfortunately, we will probably not know because the issue will likely be sealed even though there should be more transparency in these issues,” he told Ars by e-mail, noting that during his tenure on the bench he could not remember a time when the government invoked the All Writs Act.

“It is only through greater transparency will we start to get the answers. If the provider simply complies we will know nothing. Here, Judge Gorenstein’s approach strikes me as very even-handed, but the inherent problem is that those who are concerned about privacy issues in general simply have to hope that the provider will speak up for us.”

But Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former federal prosecutor, does not believe that the seized phone in the New York case was an iOS 8 device.

“The government obtained a warrant on October 10 for a phone already in its possession,” he told Ars by e-mail. “Apple’s announcement was something like September 18. If it was an iPhone, it was probably an iPhone running [on] an earlier operating system.”

Still, Alex Abdo, the ACLU attorney, after reading a copy of the Oakland documents, concluded that the “government’s application raises troubling questions about the extent to which it can force companies to break the products they sell.”

“We are heartened, however, that the court recognized that possibility and stopped short of ordering Apple to come up with a way to decrypt its customers’ data,” he added.

“More broadly, it is disconcerting that the government is relying on a catch-all law to seek surveillance powers that it should be seeking from Congress and the public,” said Abdo. “If the government wants new spying tools, it should allow our democratic process to debate them openly first.”

UPDATE 1:50pm CT: Jonathan Mayer, a lecturer at Stanford Law, said that use of the All Writs Act is not as novel as it may seem. (He recommended his recent lecture on the subject!)

“The TL;DR is that there is nothing new about using the All Writs Act to compel assistance,” Mayer told Ars by e-mail. “And there is also nothing new about using it to compel assistance with unlocking a phone. That repeated language you saw? It’s provided by Apple itself!”

“As for the opinion discounting the All Writs Act, that had to do with surveillance under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Where ECPA applies, the All Writs Act doesn’t. (It’s just a default, as the court rightly noted.) Phone unlocking isn’t covered by ECPA, so the All Writs Act remains in play.”

Shhh… Phone Apps Disguised to Spy on Hong Kong Protesters

With the widespread use of social media during the week-long protests in Hong Kong, including attempts to find phone apps capable of defying potential shutdown of the power grid, this story from The Associated Press below (Credits to The Associated Press) is a timely stern reminder:

The Associated Press
Published: October 2, 2014

HONG KONG — The Chinese government might be using smartphone apps to spy on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a U.S. security firm said.

The applications are disguised as tools created by activists, said the firm, Lacoon Mobile Security. It said that once downloaded, they give an outsider access to the phone’s address book, call logs and other information.

The identities of victims and details of the servers used “lead us to believe that the Chinese government are behind the attack,” said a Lacoon statement.

China is, along with the United States and Russia, regarded as a leader in cyber warfare research. Security experts say China is a leading source of hacking attacks aimed at foreign governments and companies to computers in China.

The Chinese government has denied engaging in cyberspying and says China is among the biggest victims of hacking attacks.

Lacoon said it found two similar “malicious, fake” apps that appeared to be related. One targets phones that run Apple Inc.’s iOS operating system; the other is meant for phones using Google Inc.’s Android system.

The “very advanced software,” known as an mRAT, or multidimensional requirements analysis tool, “is undoubtedly being backed by a nation state,” the company said. Lacoon said it was calling the software Xsser.

“The Xsser mRAT represents a fundamental shift by nation-state cybercriminals from compromising traditional PC systems to targeting mobile devices,” the company said.

Such “cross-platform attacks” that target both Apple and Android phones are rare, which adds to signs a government is involved, Lacoon said. It said the app might be the first spyware for iOS created by a Chinese government entity.

In May, U.S. prosecutors charged five Chinese military officers with cyberspying and stealing trade secrets from major American companies. A security firm, Mandiant, said last year it traced attacks on American and other companies to a military unit in Shanghai.

Shhh… Apple & Google Phones Too Secure?

This may as well be the best ever advertisement any company would die for…

FBI director James Comey criticized on Thursday that the encryption in the latest operating systems of Apple and Google phones were so secure that law enforcement officials would have no access to information stored on those devices even with valid warrants and asked why companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law”.

“There will come a day when it will matter a great deal to the lives of people … that we will be able to gain access,” Mr Comey reportedly told the media.

“I want to have that conversation [with companies responsible] before that day comes.”

Law enforcement agencies place premiums on their forensic abilities to search sensitive data like photos, messages and web histories on smartphones – and also on old plain vanilla cellular phones to some extent – to solve some serious crimes: mobile phones increasingly perform and even replace what we used to do with our computers but thanks to the convergence of technologies, law enforcement and investigators are now able to use mobile phone forensic, much like computer forensic techniques, to retrieve data, including deleted data, from the phones as they did on computers.

The comments from Comey came hot on the heels of news last week that Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, is so well encrypted that even Apple Inc. cannot unlock their mobile devices. Google meanwhile is also adopting its latest encryption format for its new (to be released) Android operating system that the company would be unable to unlock.

Question: Has Comey approached the NSA for help?

Shhh… Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Possibly New Foreign Threats

In what seems like invasion of privacy scaling to new heights, surpassing even the most dystopian state of any hardcore Orwellian, Americans found to their horror of not only having to live with NSA snoops on all their private communications when a recent Popular Science report revealed the existence of fake cellphone towers across the US that cannot be linked to any owner or operator and set up simply to connect to nearby phones, bypassing encryption to eavesdrop on calls and read text messages.

GSMinterceptor-USmap

As many as 17 such fake cellphone towers have been discovered in July alone, with more expected to be found, according to the map above charted out in August by ESD America CEO Les Goldsmith and phone technology expert.

What’s more disturbing is that most of the fake towers are set up near US military bases which prompts the question if these were US or foreign government interceptors.

These interceptors are radio-equipped devices to overcome the onboard encryption on our phones, Android or iOS alike. Their target is actually another operating system hidden behind every phone called the baseband processor, which channels the communications between the core OS and the cellphone towers.

And these towers are unlikely to belong to the NSA as the agency can simply go the local phone carriers to suck up all the metadata, as the Snowden revelations have revealed.

It would be interesting to keep an eye on the US Federal Communications Commission which The Washington Post announced early August that it is investigating into the use and misuse of surveillance technology by criminal networks and foreign intelligence.

Shhh… New Phones for Spies

Christmas comes early for spies this year.

The National Security Agency and Defense Information Systems Agency (the unit that manages all communications hardware needs for the Pentagon) are reportedly going to issue in December their newly developed smart phones and tablets based on commercially designed devices. Only a selected number of “customers” would get such a device as an early Christmas present, including spies and some high-level military and government officials.

These new phones and tablets are modified from commercial designs  – for good operational reasons – and thus mark a departure from the current use of special phones that stand out from the crowd and cost thousands of dollars. These ordinary looking devices will use some special Apps to optimize use of cloud computing and thus ease the risks of losing them and having sensitive data easily compromised.

And by the way, these modified devices run on Google’s Android operating system. Apple’s loyal worshippers will be left disappointed…