Shhh… Spies Vs Silicon Valley

Check out the following Guardian article:

Spies helped build Silicon Valley. Now the tables are turning

David Cameron wants US tech sector companies to do more to fight terrorism. But they’ve grown too powerful to listen

Gordon Corera
Wednesday 29 July 2015

If you want to understand how modern British and American intelligence services operate, you could do worse than visit the new exhibition that opens at Bletchley Park this week. It tells the story of code-breaking in the first world war, which paved the way not just for the better-known success story of world war two, but also GCHQ and the NSA’s modern day bulk interception.

A century ago, just as today, intelligence services and network providers used to enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Britain, for example, exploited its dominance of the telegraph system to spy after its companies had built an imperial web of cables that wrapped itself around the world. Britain’s first offensive act of the conflict was to cut Germany’s own undersea cables and install “secret censors” in British company offices around the world that looked out for enemy communications. A staggering 80m cable messages were subject to “censorship” during the war.

In recent decades the US has enjoyed a similar ability to spy on the world thanks to its role in building the internet – what the NSA called “home field advantage”. This worked via two channels. The first was fibre-optic cables passing through either American or British territory, allowing intelligence agencies to install the modern equivalent of secret censors: computerised black boxes that could filter data to look for emails based on “selectors”. The second channel was Silicon Valley – which had thrived thanks to massive Pentagon and NSA subsidies. People around the world sent their communications and stored their data with American companies, whose business model often involved collecting, analysing and monetising that data. This attracted spies like bears to honey. And so Prism was born – requiring the companies themselves to run selectors across their own data. 45,000 selectors were running in 2012. Put together with cable-tapping, this meant that nearly 90,000 people around the world were being spied on.

Building the internet allowed the US to export its values, import other countries’ information through spying and make a lot of money for American corporations along the way. But the relationships have fractured. The Snowden disclosures were one reason – exposure led tech companies to back away from quiet cooperation and make privacy a selling point (even competing with each other as seen in Apple’s CEO blast against Google recently).

At the same time, Isis’s use of social media has increased the state’s desire to get more from these companies, leading to growing tension. It was notable that David Cameron’s speech on extremism last week singled out tech companies for criticism. When their commercial models are built around tracking our likes and dislikes, why do they say it’s too difficult to help when it comes to the fight against terrorism, the prime minister asked.

A big problem for the spies is that during the first world war the cable companies that helped Britain knew who was boss. Today it is more complex. An angry Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook told President Obama that his administration “blew it” when it tried to defend Prism by saying it was only used to spy on foreigners. After all, most of Facebook and Silicon Valley’s customers are foreigners.

The British government criticised Facebook for not spotting private messages from one of the men who went on to kill Lee Rigby. This is the kind of thing Cameron wants the companies to do more on. But whose job is it to spy? The companies are nervous of signing up to a system in which it is their job to scan their customers’ data and proactively report suspicious content, effectively outsourcing the act of spying (and not just the collection of data) to the private sector. Such a deal, tech companies fear, could set a dangerous precedent: if you help Britain when it comes to national security, what do you do when China or Russia come knocking?

On his first day as director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan launched a volley against Silicon Valley, accusing it of acting as “command and control” for groups like Isis. But since then, the tone has been more conciliatory. What Hannigan may have realised is that companies have the upper hand, partly because the data is with US companies that are subject to US laws. To avoid the Russia and China issue, they assert their co-operation is voluntary and there is not much the British state can do about it.

It was notable that in his speech, Cameron didn’t threaten new legislation. Why? Because he knows that power relations between governments and corporations have shifted since the first world war: modern tech firms are too big to be pushed around.

If they have a vulnerability, it’s their dependence on customers: verbal volleys from politicians and spies are a sign that the real battleground is now public opinion. Companies are gambling that focusing on privacy will win them the trust of the public, while governments in London and Washington are hoping that talking about terrorism will pressure companies to cooperate more. Who wins this tug of war may depend on events that neither party can control, including the prevalence of terrorist attacks. Whatever the case, the old alliance between Silicon Valley and the spies is no more.

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… NSA Rats Exposed – The "Facebook-NSA Queen" & Mysterious Death of Dave Goldberg

Some thoughts for the weekend… listen especially to the first six and a half minutes of this clip below about the conspiracy theories surrounding the recent mysterious death of Dave Goldberg, the husband of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg – the “Facebook-NSA Queen”.

Shhh… NSA Have More Data Than They Can Handle

Are you wondering why this “problem” (data overload – see article below) did not happen earlier…?

NSA is so overwhelmed with data, it’s no longer effective, says whistleblower

Summary:One of the agency’s first whistleblowers says the NSA is taking in too much data for it to handle, which can have disastrous — if not deadly — consequences.

By Zack Whittaker for Zero Day | April 30, 2015 — 14:29 GMT (22:29 GMT+08:00)

NEW YORK — A former National Security Agency official turned whistleblower has spent almost a decade and a half in civilian life. And he says he’s still “pissed” by what he’s seen leak in the past two years.

In a lunch meeting hosted by Contrast Security founder Jeff Williams on Wednesday, William Binney, a former NSA official who spent more than three decades at the agency, said the US government’s mass surveillance programs have become so engorged with data that they are no longer effective, losing vital intelligence in the fray.

That, he said, can — and has — led to terrorist attacks succeeding.

Binney said that an analyst today can run one simple query across the NSA’s various databases, only to become immediately overloaded with information. With about four billion people — around two-thirds of the world’s population — under the NSA and partner agencies’ watchful eyes, according to his estimates, there is too much data being collected.

“That’s why they couldn’t stop the Boston bombing, or the Paris shootings, because the data was all there,” said Binney. Because the agency isn’t carefully and methodically setting its tools up for smart data collection, that leaves analysts to search for a needle in a haystack.

“The data was all there… the NSA is great at going back over it forensically for years to see what they were doing before that,” he said. “But that doesn’t stop it.”

Binney called this a “bulk data failure” — in that the NSA programs, leaked by Edward Snowden, are collecting too much for the agency to process. He said the problem runs deeper across law enforcement and other federal agencies, like the FBI, the CIA, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which all have access to NSA intelligence.

Binney left the NSA a month after the September 11 attacks in New York City in 2001, days after controversial counter-terrorism legislation was enacted — the Patriot Act — in the wake of the attacks. Binney stands jaded by his experience leaving the shadowy eavesdropping agency, but impassioned for the job he once had. He left after a program he helped develop was scrapped three weeks prior to September 11, replaced by a system he said was more expensive and more intrusive. Snowden said he was inspired by Binney’s case, which in part inspired him to leak thousands of classified documents to journalists.

Since then, the NSA has ramped up its intelligence gathering mission to indiscriminately “collect it all.”

Binney said the NSA is today not as interested in phone records — such as who calls whom, when, and for how long. Although the Obama administration calls the program a “critical national security tool,” the agency is increasingly looking at the content of communications, as the Snowden disclosures have shown.

Binney said he estimated that a “maximum” of 72 companies were participating in the bulk records collection program — including Verizon, but said it was a drop in the ocean. He also called PRISM, the clandestine surveillance program that grabs data from nine named Silicon Valley giants, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, just a “minor part” of the data collection process.

“The Upstream program is where the vast bulk of the information was being collected,” said Binney, talking about how the NSA tapped undersea fiber optic cables. With help from its British counterparts at GCHQ, the NSA is able to “buffer” more than 21 petabytes a day.

Binney said the “collect it all” mantra now may be the norm, but it’s expensive and ineffective.

“If you have to collect everything, there’s an ever increasing need for more and more budget,” he said. “That means you can build your empire.”

They say you never leave the intelligence community. Once you’re a spy, you’re always a spy — it’s a job for life, with few exceptions. One of those is blowing the whistle, which he did. Since then, he has spent his retirement lobbying for change and reform in industry and in Congress.

“They’re taking away half of the constitution in secret,” said Binney. “If they want to change the constitution, there’s a way to do that — and it’s in the constitution.”

An NSA spokesperson did not immediately comment.

Shhh… Emails Reveal Cozy Google-NSA Relationship on Previously Denied High-Level Policy Discussions

Here’s an exclusive story (below) from Al Jazeera neither Google nor the NSA wants you to know.

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Exclusive: Emails reveal close Google relationship with NSA

National Security Agency head and Internet giant’s executives have coordinated through high-level policy discussions

May 6, 2014 5:00AM ET
by Jason Leopold

Email exchanges between National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt suggest a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the U.S. government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass after last year’s revelations about NSA spying.

Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s vast capability for spying on Americans’ electronic communications prompted a number of tech executives whose firms cooperated with the government to insist they had done so only when compelled by a court of law.

But Al Jazeera has obtained two sets of email communications dating from a year before Snowden became a household name that suggest not all cooperation was under pressure.

On the morning of June 28, 2012, an email from Alexander invited Schmidt to attend a four-hour-long “classified threat briefing” on Aug. 8 at a “secure facility in proximity to the San Jose, CA airport.”

“The meeting discussion will be topic-specific, and decision-oriented, with a focus on Mobility Threats and Security,” Alexander wrote in the email, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the first of dozens of communications between the NSA chief and Silicon Valley executives that the agency plans to turn over.

Alexander, Schmidt and other industry executives met earlier in the month, according to the email. But Alexander wanted another meeting with Schmidt and “a small group of CEOs” later that summer because the government needed Silicon Valley’s help.

“About six months ago, we began focusing on the security of mobility devices,” Alexander wrote. “A group (primarily Google, Apple and Microsoft) recently came to agreement on a set of core security principles. When we reach this point in our projects we schedule a classified briefing for the CEOs of key companies to provide them a brief on the specific threats we believe can be mitigated and to seek their commitment for their organization to move ahead … Google’s participation in refinement, engineering and deployment of the solutions will be essential.”

Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, said she believes information sharing between industry and the government is “absolutely essential” but “at the same time, there is some risk to user privacy and to user security from the way the vulnerability disclosure is done.”

The challenge facing government and industry was to enhance security without compromising privacy, Granick said. The emails between Alexander and Google executives, she said, show “how informal information sharing has been happening within this vacuum where there hasn’t been a known, transparent, concrete, established methodology for getting security information into the right hands.”

The classified briefing cited by Alexander was part of a secretive government initiative known as the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), and his email provides some rare information about what the ESF entails, the identities of some participant tech firms and the threats they discussed.

Alexander explained that the deputy secretaries of the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and “18 US CEOs” launched the ESF in 2009 to “coordinate government/industry actions on important (generally classified) security issues that couldn’t be solved by individual actors alone.”

“For example, over the last 18 months, we (primarily Intel, AMD [Advanced Micro Devices], HP [Hewlett-Packard], Dell and Microsoft on the industry side) completed an effort to secure the BIOS of enterprise platforms to address a threat in that area.”

“BIOS” is an acronym for “basic input/output system,” the system software that initializes the hardware in a personal computer before the operating system starts up. NSA cyberdefense chief Debora Plunkett in December disclosed that the agency had thwarted a “BIOS plot” by a “nation-state,” identified as China, to brick U.S. computers. That plot, she said, could have destroyed the U.S. economy. “60 Minutes,” which broke the story, reported that the NSA worked with unnamed “computer manufacturers” to address the BIOS software vulnerability.

But some cybersecurity experts questioned the scenario outlined by Plunkett.

“There is probably some real event behind this, but it’s hard to tell, because we don’t have any details,” wrote Robert Graham, CEO of the penetration-testing firm Errata Security in Atlanta, on his blog in December. “It”s completely false in the message it is trying to convey. What comes out is gibberish, as any technical person can confirm.”

And by enlisting the NSA to shore up their defenses, those companies may have made themselves more vulnerable to the agency’s efforts to breach them for surveillance purposes.

“I think the public should be concerned about whether the NSA was really making its best efforts, as the emails claim, to help secure enterprise BIOS and mobile devices and not holding the best vulnerabilities close to their chest,” said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team.

He doesn’t doubt that the NSA was trying to secure enterprise BIOS, but he suggested that the agency, for its own purposes, was “looking for weaknesses in the exact same products they’re trying to secure.”

The NSA “has no business helping Google secure its facilities from the Chinese and at the same time hacking in through the back doors and tapping the fiber connections between Google base centers,” Cardozo said. “The fact that it’s the same agency doing both of those things is in obvious contradiction and ridiculous.” He recommended dividing offensive and defensive functions between two agencies.

Two weeks after the “60 Minutes” broadcast, the German magazine Der Spiegel, citing documents obtained by Snowden, reported that the NSA inserted back doors into BIOS, doing exactly what Plunkett accused a nation-state of doing during her interview.

Google’s Schmidt was unable to attend to the mobility security meeting in San Jose in August 2012.

“General Keith.. so great to see you.. !” Schmidt wrote. “I’m unlikely to be in California that week so I’m sorry I can’t attend (will be on the east coast). Would love to see you another time. Thank you !” Since the Snowden disclosures, Schmidt has been critical of the NSA and said its surveillance programs may be illegal.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend that briefing. Foreign Policy reported a month later that Dempsey and other government officials — no mention of Alexander — were in Silicon Valley “picking the brains of leaders throughout the valley and discussing the need to quickly share information on cyber threats.” Foreign Policy noted that the Silicon Valley executives in attendance belonged to the ESF. The story did not say mobility threats and security was the top agenda item along with a classified threat briefing.

A week after the gathering, Dempsey said during a Pentagon press briefing, “I was in Silicon Valley recently, for about a week, to discuss vulnerabilities and opportunities in cyber with industry leaders … They agreed — we all agreed on the need to share threat information at network speed.”

Google co-founder Sergey Brin attended previous meetings of the ESF group but because of a scheduling conflict, according to Alexander’s email, he also could not attend the Aug. 8 briefing in San Jose, and it’s unknown if someone else from Google was sent.

A few months earlier, Alexander had emailed Brin to thank him for Google’s participation in the ESF.

“I see ESF’s work as critical to the nation’s progress against the threat in cyberspace and really appreciate Vint Cerf [Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist], Eric Grosse [vice president of security engineering] and Adrian Ludwig’s [lead engineer for Android security] contributions to these efforts during the past year,” Alexander wrote in a Jan. 13, 2012, email.

“You recently received an invitation to the ESF Executive Steering Group meeting, which will be held on January 19, 2012. The meeting is an opportunity to recognize our 2012 accomplishments and set direction for the year to come. We will be discussing ESF’s goals and specific targets for 2012. We will also discuss some of the threats we see and what we are doing to mitigate those threats … Your insights, as a key member of the Defense Industrial Base, are valuable to ensure ESF’s efforts have measurable impact.”

A Google representative declined to answer specific questions about Brin’s and Schmidt’s relationship with Alexander or about Google’s work with the government.

“We work really hard to protect our users from cyberattacks, and we always talk to experts — including in the U.S. government — so we stay ahead of the game,” the representative said in a statement to Al Jazeera. “It’s why Sergey attended this NSA conference.”

Brin responded to Alexander the following day even though the head of the NSA didn’t use the appropriate email address when contacting the co-chairman.

“Hi Keith, looking forward to seeing you next week. FYI, my best email address to use is [redacted],” Brin wrote. “The one your email went to — sergey.brin@google.com — I don’t really check.”

Shhh… Facebook Violates EU Law as it Tracks Everyone Including Logged Out Users and Visitors

Continuing on the Facebook topic again, check out the video clip and the exclusive Guardian article below:

Facebook ‘tracks all visitors, breaching EU law’

Exclusive: People without Facebook accounts, logged out users, and EU users who have explicitly opted out of tracking are all being tracked, report says

Facebook tracks the web browsing of everyone who visits a page on its site even if the user does not have an account or has explicitly opted out of tracking in the EU, extensive research commissioned by the Belgian data protection agency has revealed.

The report, from researchers at the Centre of Interdisciplinary Law and ICT (ICRI) and the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography department (Cosic) at the University of Leuven, and the media, information and telecommunication department (Smit) at Vrije Universiteit Brussels, was commissioned after an original draft report revealed Facebook’s privacy policy breaches European law.

The researchers now claim that Facebook tracks computers of users without their consent, whether they are logged in to Facebook or not, and even if they are not registered users of the site or explicitly opt out in Europe. Facebook tracks users in order to target advertising.

The issue revolves around Facebook’s use of its social plugins such as the “Like” button, which has been placed on more than 13m sites including health and government sites.

Facebook places tracking cookies on users’ computers if they visit any page on the facebook.com domain, including fan pages or other pages that do not require a Facebook account to visit.

When a user visits a third-party site that carries one of Facebook’s social plug-ins, it detects and sends the tracking cookies back to Facebook – even if the user does not interact with the Like button, Facebook Login or other extension of the social media site.

EU privacy law states that prior consent must be given before issuing a cookie or performing tracking, unless it is necessary for either the networking required to connect to the service (“criterion A”) or to deliver a service specifically requested by the user (“criterion B”).

The same law requires websites to notify users on their first visit to a site that it uses cookies, requesting consent to do so.

A cookie is a small file placed on a user’s computer by a website that stores settings, previous activities and other small amounts of information needed by the site. They are sent to the site on each visit and can therefore be used to identify a user’s computer and track their movements across the web.

“We collect information when you visit or use third-party websites and apps that use our services. This includes information about the websites and apps you visit, your use of our services on those websites and apps, as well as information the developer or publisher of the app or website provides to you or us,” states Facebook’s data usage policy, which was updated this year.

Facebook’s tracking practices have ‘no legal basis’

An opinion published by Article 29, the pan-European data regulator working party, in 2012 stated that unless delivering a service specifically requested by the user, social plug-ins must have consent before placing a cookie. “Since by definition social plug-ins are destined to members of a particular social network, they are not of any use for non-members, and therefore do not match ‘criterion B’ for those users.”

The same applies for users of Facebook who are logged out at the time, while logged-in users should only be served a “session cookie” that expires when the user logs out or closes their browser, according to Article 29.

The Article 29 working party has also said that cookies set for “security purposes” can only fall under the consent exemptions if they are essential for a service explicitly requested by the user – not general security of the service.

Facebook’s cookie policy updated this year states that the company still uses cookies if users do not have a Facebook account, or are logged out, to “enable us to deliver, select, evaluate, measure and understand the ads we serve on and off Facebook”.

The social network tracks its users for advertising purposes across non-Facebook sites by default. Users can opt out of ad tracking, but an opt-out mechanism “is not an adequate mechanism to obtain average users informed consent”, according to Article 29.

“European legislation is really quite clear on this point. To be legally valid, an individual’s consent towards online behavioural advertising must be opt-in,” explained Brendan Van Alsenoy, a researcher at ICRI and one of the report’s author.

“Facebook cannot rely on users’ inaction (ie not opting out through a third-party website) to infer consent. As far as non-users are concerned, Facebook really has no legal basis whatsoever to justify its current tracking practices.”

Opt-out mechanism actually enables tracking for the non-tracked

The researchers also analysed the opt-out mechanism used by Facebook and many other internet companies including Google and Microsoft.

Users wanting to opt out of behavioural tracking are directed to sites run by the Digital Advertising Alliance in the US, Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada in Canada or the European Digital Advertising Alliance in the EU, each of which allow bulk opting-out from 100 companies.

But the researchers discovered that far from opting out of tracking, Facebook places a new cookie on the computers of users who have not been tracked before.

“If people who are not being tracked by Facebook use the ‘opt out’ mechanism proposed for the EU, Facebook places a long-term, uniquely identifying cookie, which can be used to track them for the next two years,” explained Günes Acar from Cosic, who also co-wrote the report. “What’s more, we found that Facebook does not place any long-term identifying cookie on the opt-out sites suggested by Facebook for US and Canadian users.”

The finding was confirmed by Steven Englehardt, a researcher at Princeton University’s department of computer science who was not involved in the report: “I started with a fresh browsing session and received an additional ‘datr’ cookie that appears capable of uniquely identifying users on the UK version of the European opt-out site. This cookie was not present during repeat tests with a fresh session on the US or Canadian version.”

Facebook sets an opt-out cookie on all the opt-out sites, but this cookie cannot be used for tracking individuals since it does not contain a unique identifier. Why Facebook places the “datr” cookie on computers of EU users who opt out is unknown.

‘Privacy-friendly’ design

For users worried about tracking, third-party browser add-ons that block tracking are available, says Acar: “Examples include Privacy Badger, Ghostery and Disconnect. Privacy Badger replaces social plug-ins with privacy preserving counterparts so that users can still use social plug-ins, but not be tracked until they actually click on them.

“We argue that it is the legal duty of Facebook to design its services and components in a privacy-friendly way,” Van Alsenoy added. “This means designing social plug-ins in such a way that information about individual’s personal browsing activities outside of Facebook are not unnecessarily exposed.”

Facebook is being investigated by the Dutch data protection authority, which asked the social network to delay rollout of its new privacy policy, and is being probed by the Article 29 working party.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “This report contains factual inaccuracies. The authors have never contacted us, nor sought to clarify any assumptions upon which their report is based. Neither did they invite our comment on the report before making it public. We have explained in detail the inaccuracies in the earlier draft report (after it was published) directly to the Belgian DPA, who we understand commissioned it, and have offered to meet with them to explain why it is incorrect, but they have declined to meet or engage with us. However, we remain willing to engage with them and hope they will be prepared to update their work in due course.”

“Earlier this year we updated our terms and policies to make them more clear and concise, to reflect new product features and to highlight how we’re expanding people’s control over advertising. We’re confident the updates comply with applicable laws including EU law.”

Van Alsenoy and Acar, authors of the study, told the Guardian: “We welcome comments via the contact email address listed within the report. Several people have already reached out to provide suggestions and ideas, which we really appreciate.”

“To date, we have not been contacted by Facebook directly nor have we received any meeting request. We’re not surprised that Facebook holds a different opinion as to what European data protection laws require. But if Facebook feels today’s releases contain factual errors, we’re happy to receive any specific remarks it would like to make.”

Shhh… Why You Should Forget Facebook for Good?

Do you need convincing reasons to leave Facebook for good? Look no further than this video clip and Guardian article below.

To be honest, I signed up to Facebook only late last year but used it exclusively to promote this blog. Yet, I’m always having second thoughts…

Leave Facebook if you don’t want to be spied on, warns EU

European Commission admits Safe Harbour framework cannot ensure privacy of EU citizens’ data when sent to the US by American internet firms

Samuel Gibbs
@SamuelGibbs

Thursday 26 March 2015 19.11 GMT

The European Commission has warned EU citizens that they should close their Facebook accounts if they want to keep information private from US security services, finding that current Safe Harbour legislation does not protect citizen’s data.

The comments were made by EC attorney Bernhard Schima in a case brought by privacy campaigner Maximilian Schrems, looking at whether the data of EU citizens should be considered safe if sent to the US in a post-Snowden revelation landscape.

“You might consider closing your Facebook account, if you have one,” Schima told attorney general Yves Bot in a hearing of the case at the European court of justice in Luxembourg.

When asked directly, the commission could not confirm to the court that the Safe Harbour rules provide adequate protection of EU citizens’ data as it currently stands.

The US no longer qualifies

The case, dubbed “the Facebook data privacy case”, concerns the current Safe Harbour framework, which covers the transmission of EU citizens’ data across the Atlantic to the US. Without the framework, it is against EU law to transmit private data outside of the EU. The case collects complaints lodged against Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Microsoft-owned Skype and Yahoo.

Schrems maintains that companies operating inside the EU should not be allowed to transfer data to the US under Safe Harbour protections – which state that US data protection rules are adequate if information is passed by companies on a “self-certify” basis – because the US no longer qualifies for such a status.

The case argues that the US government’s Prism data collection programme, revealed by Edward Snowden in the NSA files, which sees EU citizens’ data held by US companies passed on to US intelligence agencies, breaches the EU’s Data Protection Directive “adequacy” standard for privacy protection, meaning that the Safe Harbour framework no longer applies.

Poland and a few other member states as well as advocacy group Digital Rights Ireland joined Schrems in arguing that the Safe Harbour framework cannot ensure the protection of EU citizens’ data and therefore is in violation of the two articles of the Data Protection Directive.

The commission, however, argued that Safe Harbour is necessary both politically and economically and that it is still a work in progress. The EC and the Ireland data protection watchdog argue that the EC should be left to reform it with a 13-point plan to ensure the privacy of EU citizens’ data.

“There have been a spate of cases from the ECJ and other courts on data privacy and retention showing the judiciary as being more than willing to be a disrupting influence,” said Paula Barrett, partner and data protection expert at law firm Eversheds. “Bringing down the safe harbour mechanism might seem politically and economically ill-conceived, but as the decision of the ECJ in the so-called ‘right to be forgotten’ case seems to reinforce that isn’t a fetter which the ECJ is restrained by.”

An opinion on the Safe Harbour framework from the ECJ is expected by 24 June.

Facebook declined to comment.

Shhh… The USB-C Makes those new MacBooks More Vulnerable

You may want to think twice about the new MacBook.

Apple may have ideas about its newly introduced USB-C but widely reported vulnerabilities of USB devices amplify big troubles ahead, as the following article explains.

MacBookAir-USB-c2

The NSA Is Going to Love These USB-C Charging Cables

Mario Aguilar
3/17/15 12:35pm

Thanks to Apple’s new MacBook and Google’s new Chromebook Pixel, USB-C has arrived. A single flavor of cable for all your charging and connectivity needs? Hell yes. But that convenience doesn’t come without a cost; our computers will be more vulnerable than ever to malware attacks, from hackers and surveillance agencies alike.

The trouble with USB-C stems from the fact that the USB standard isn’t very secure. Last year, researchers wrote a piece of malware called BadUSB which attaches to your computer using USB devices like phone chargers or thumb drives. Once connected, the malware basically takes over a computer imperceptibly. The scariest part is that the malware is written directly to the USB controller chip’s firmware, which means that it’s virtually undetectable and so far, unfixable.

Before USB-C, there was a way to keep yourself somewhat safe. As long as you kept tabs on your cables, and never stuck random USB sticks into your computer, you could theoretically keep it clean. But as The Verge points out, the BadUSB vulnerability still hasn’t been fixed in USB-C, and now the insecure port is the slot where you connect your power supply. Heck, it’s shaping up to be the slot where you connect everything. You have no choice but to use it every day. Think about how often you’ve borrowed a stranger’s power cable to get charged up. Asking for a charge from a stranger is like having unprotected sex with someone you picked up at the club.

What the Verge fails to mention however, is that it’s potentially much worse than that. If everyone is using the same power charger, it’s not just renegade hackers posing as creative professionals in coffee shops that you need to worry about. With USB-C, the surveillance establishment suddenly has a huge incentive to figure out how to sneak a compromised cable into your power hole.

It might seem alarmist and paranoid to suggest that the NSA would try to sneak a backdoor into charging cables through manufacturers, except that the agency has been busted trying exactly this kind of scheme. Last year, it was revealed that the NSA paid security firm RSA $10 million to leave a backdoor in their encryption unpatched. There’s no telling if or when or how the NSA might try to accomplish something similar with USB-C cables, but it stands to reason they would try.

We live in a world where we plug in with abandon, and USB-C’s flexibility is designed to make plugging in easier than ever. Imagine never needing to guess whether or not your aunt’s house will have a charger for your phone. USB-C could become so common that this isn’t even a question. Of course she has one! With that ubiquity and convenience comes a risk that the tech could become exploited—not just by criminals, but also by the government’s data siphoning machine.

Shhh… Apple Still Wants to Find You Even When Location Services are Switched Off

Interesting live demonstration – see video clip below, where the publisher Chris Gagné said:

Apple’s help text says “You can also turn Location Services off altogether by deselecting Enable Location Services in the Privacy pane of Security & Privacy preferences. However, here’s a video showing that although Location Services are turned off, Apple’s com.apple.geod (their location services daemon) is still active and attempting to communicate with gsp-ssl.ls.apple.com. It’s blocked from doing so by Little Snitch, whose Network Monitor is showing all of these attempts. This is on Mac Os 10.10.2.

Shhh… Anatomy of a Hack – What Should You Do After You're Hacked?

Ever wonder what happens when one’s hacked?

Here’s an insightful chilling account of how one victim attempted to trace the hacker who invaded into his onlife life and Bitcoin wallet.

Hacked-AnatomyOfAHack

Anatomy of a Hack

In the early morning hours of October 21st, 2014, Partap Davis lost $3,000. He had gone to sleep just after 2AM in his Albuquerque, New Mexico, home after a late night playing World of Tanks. While he slept, an attacker undid every online security protection he set up. By the time he woke up, most of his online life had been compromised: two email accounts, his phone, his Twitter, his two-factor authenticator, and most importantly, his bitcoin wallets.

Davis was careful when it came to digital security. He chose strong passwords and didn’t click on bogus links. He used two-factor authentication with Gmail, so when he logged in from a new computer, he had to type in six digits that were texted to his phone, just to make sure it was him. He had made some money with the rise of bitcoin and held onto the bitcoin in three protected wallets, managed by Coinbase, Bitstamp, and BTC-E. He also used two-factor with the Coinbase and BTC-E accounts. Any time he wanted to access them, he had to verify the login with Authy, a two-factor authenticator app on his phone.

Other than the bitcoin, Davis wasn’t that different from the average web user. He makes his living coding, splitting time between building video education software and a patchwork of other jobs. On the weekends, he snowboards, exploring the slopes around Los Alamos. This is his 10th year in Albuquerque; last year, he turned 40.

After the hack, Davis spent weeks tracking down exactly how it had happened, piecing together a picture from access logs and reluctant customer service reps. Along the way, he reached out to The Verge, and we added a few more pieces to the puzzle. We still don’t know everything — in particular, we don’t know who did it — but we know enough to say how they did it, and the points of failure sketch out a map of the most glaring vulnerabilities of our digital lives.

Mail.com

It started with Davis’ email. When he was first setting up an email account, Davis found that Partap@gmail.com was taken, so he chose a Mail.com address instead, setting up Partap@mail.com to forward to a less memorably named Gmail address.

Some time after 2AM on October 21st, that link was broken. Someone broke into Davis’ mail.com account and stopped the forwarding. Suddenly there was a new phone number attached to the account — a burner Android device registered in Florida. There was a new backup email too, swagger@mailinator.com, which is still the closest thing we have to the attacker’s name.

For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call her Eve.

How did Eve get in? We can’t say for sure, but it’s likely that she used a script to target a weakness in Mail.com’s password reset page. We know such a script existed. For months, users on the site Hackforum had been selling access to a script that reset specific account passwords on Mail.com. It was an old exploit by the time Davis was targeted, and the going rate was $5 per account. It’s unclear how the exploit worked and whether it has been closed in the months since, but it did exactly what Eve needed. Without any authentication, she was able to reset Davis’ password to a string of characters that only she knew.

AT&T

Eve’s next step was to take over Partap’s phone number. She didn’t have his AT&T password, but she just pretended to have forgotten it, and ATT.com sent along a secure link to partap@mail.com to reset it. Once inside the account, she talked a customer service rep into forwarding his calls to her Long Beach number. Strictly speaking, there are supposed to be more safeguards required to set up call forwarding, and it’s supposed to take more than a working email address to push it through. But faced with an angry client, customer service reps will often give way, putting user satisfaction over the colder virtues of security.

Once forwarding was set up, all of Davis’ voice calls belonged to Eve. Davis still got texts and emails, but every call was routed straight to the attacker. Davis didn’t realize what had happened until two days later, when his boss complained that Davis wasn’t picking up the phone.


Google and Authy

Next, Eve set her sights on Davis’ Google account. Experts will tell you that two-factor authentication is the best protection against attacks. A hacker might get your password or a mugger might steal your phone, but it’s hard to manage both at once. As long as the phone is a physical object, that system works. But people replace their phones all the time, and they expect to be able to replace the services, too. Accounts have to be reset 24 hours a day, and two-factor services end up looking like just one more account to crack.

Davis hadn’t set up Google’s Authenticator app, the more secure option, but he had two-factor authentication enabled — Google texted him a confirmation code every time he logged in from a new computer. Call forwarding didn’t pass along Davis’ texts, but Eve had a back door: thanks to Google’s accessibility functions, she could ask for the confirmation code to be read out loud over the phone.

Authy should have been harder to break. It’s an app, like Authenticator, and it never left Davis’ phone. But Eve simply reset the app on her phone using a mail.com address and a new confirmation code, again sent by a voice call. A few minutes after 3AM, the Authy account moved under Eve’s control.

It was the same trick that had fooled Google: as long as she had Davis’ email and phone, two-factor couldn’t tell the difference between them. At this point, Eve had more control over Davis’s online life than he did. Aside from texting, all digital roads now led to Eve.

Coinbase

At 3:19AM, Eve reset Davis’s Coinbase account, using Authy and his Mail.com address. At 3:55AM, she transferred the full balance (worth roughly $3,600 at the time) to a burner account she controlled. From there, she made three withdrawals — one 30 minutes after the account was opened, then another 20 minutes later, and another five minutes after that. After that, the money disappeared into a nest of dummy accounts, designed to cover her tracks. Less than 90 minutes after his Mail.com account was first compromised, Davis’ money was gone for good.

Authy might have known something was up. The service keeps an eye out for fishy behavior, and while they’re cagey about what they monitor, it seems likely that an account reset to an out-of-state number in the middle of the night would have raised at least a few red flags. But the number wasn’t from a known fraud center like Russia or Ukraine, even if Eve might have been. It would have seemed even more suspicious when Eve logged into Coinbase from the Canadian IP. Could they have stopped her then? Modern security systems like Google’s ReCAPTCHA often work this way, adding together small indicators until there’s enough evidence to freeze an account — but Coinbase and Authy each only saw half the picture, and neither had enough to justify freezing Partap’s account.


BTC-E and Bitstamp

When Davis woke up, the first thing he noticed was that his Gmail had mysteriously logged out. The password had changed, and he couldn’t log back in. Once he was back in the account, he saw how deep the damage went. There were reset emails from each account, sketching out a map of the damage. When he finally got into his Coinbase account, he found it empty. Eve had made off with 10 bitcoin, worth more than $3,000 at the time. It took hours on the phone with customer service reps and a faxed copy of his driver’s license before he could convince them he was the real Partap Davis.

What about the two other wallets? There was $2,500 worth of bitcoin in them, with no advertised protections that the Coinbase wallet didn’t have. But when Davis checked, both accounts were still intact. BTC-e had put a 48-hour hold on the account after a password change, giving him time to prove his identity and recover the account. Bitstamp had an even simpler protection: when Eve emailed to reset Davis’s authentication token, they had asked for an image of his driver’s license. Despite all Eve’s access, it was one thing she didn’t have. Davis’ last $2,500 worth of bitcoin was safe.


Twitter

It’s been two months now since the attack, and Davis has settled back into his life. The last trace of the intrusion is Davis’ Twitter account, which stayed hacked for weeks after the other accounts. @Partap is a short handle, which makes it valuable, so Eve held onto it, putting in a new picture and erasing any trace of Davis. A few days after the attack, she posted a screenshot of a hacked Xfinity account, tagging another handle. The account didn’t belong to Davis, but it belonged to someone. She had moved onto the next target, and was using @partap as a disposable accessory to her next theft, like a stolen getaway car.

Who was behind the attack? Davis has spent weeks looking for her now — whole afternoons wasted on the phone with customer service reps — but he hasn’t gotten any closer. According to account login records, Eve’s computer was piping in from a block of IP addresses in Canada, but she may have used Tor or a VPN service to cover her tracks. Her phone number belonged to an Android device in Long Beach, California, but that phone was most likely a burner. There are only a few tracks to follow, and each one peters out fast. Wherever she is, Eve got away with it.

Why did she choose Partap Davis? She knew about the wallets upfront, we can assume. Why else would she have spent so much time digging through the accounts? She started at the mail.com account too, so we can guess that somehow, Eve came across a list of bitcoin users with Davis’ email address on it. A number of leaked Coinbase customer lists are floating around the internet, although I couldn’t find Davis’ name on any of them. Or maybe his identity came from an equipment manufacturer or a bitcoin retailer. Leaks are commonplace these days, and most go unreported.

Davis is more careful with bitcoin these days, and he’s given up on the mail.com address — but otherwise, not much about his life has changed. Coinbase has given refunds before, but this time they declined, saying the company’s security wasn’t at fault. He filed a report with the FBI, but the bureau doesn’t seem interested in a single bitcoin theft. What else is there to do? He can’t stop using a phone or give up the power to reset an account. There were just so many accounts, so many ways to get in. In the security world, they call this the attack surface. The bigger the surface, the harder it is to defend.

Most importantly, resetting a password is still easy, as Eve discovered over and over again. When a service finally stopped her, it wasn’t an elaborate algorithm or a fancy biometric. Instead, one service was willing to make customers wait 48 hours before authorizing a new password. On a technical level, it’s a simple fix, but a costly one. Companies are continuously balancing the small risk of compromise against the broad benefits of convenience. A few people may lose control of their account, but millions of others are able to keep using the service without a hitch. In the fight between security and convenience, security is simply outgunned.

3/5 11:10am ET: Updated to clarify Bitstamp security protocols.

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… Department of the Internet: How the Government Has Taken Over Our Lives

It’s mid-week… thought I should share something light for a change: an alternative comic look into privacy and the government takeover of the internet in our daily lives.

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… Live Recording: Microsoft Phone Support Scam at Work

If there’s any one lesson on computer/phone scams you need to remember: Microsoft, or Apple for that matter, will not initiate a call to offer a remote computer scan to fix a “problem”.

So here’s an actual incident when the scammers called and met their match – it was a computer security researcher on the line, who recorded the entire conversation (his two audio files below).

At one point, after allowing the scammer to gain some limited control of his computer screen, he informed the caller that she was busted, who in turn threatened to hack him (second audio file).

Enjoy witnessing scammers at work and here’s the article for a brief background.

Oh by the way, the caller’s number was 949-000-7676.

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… Fujitsu Can Detect Faces in Blurred Security Videos

Above photo credit: http://background-kid.com/blurred-people-background.html

Great, now there’s a new technology to get true clear pictures out of blurred CCTV images just when we learned last week that there are gadgets to hide one’s identity from the prying eyes of facial recognition programs like the FBI’s US$1 billion futuristic facial recognition program – the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System.

Fujitsu, the Japanese multinational information technology equipment and services company, recently said it has invented a new, first of its kind image-processing technology that can detect people from low-resolution imagery and track people in security camera footage, even when the images are heavily blurred to protect privacy. See full story below.

Sad to say, this is probably the easiest, effective and most feasible solution:

FaceMask

Fujitsu tech can track heavily blurred people in security videos

By Tim Hornyak
IDG News Service | March 6, 2015

Fujitsu has developed image-processing technology that can be used to track people in security camera footage, even when the images are heavily blurred to protect their privacy.

Fujitsu Laboratories said its technology is the first of its kind that can detect people from low-resolution imagery in which faces are indistinguishable.

Detecting the movements of people could be useful for retail design, reducing pedestrian congestion in crowded urban areas or improving evacuation routes for emergencies, it said.

Fujitsu used computer-vision algorithms to analyze the imagery and identify the rough shapes, such as heads and torsos, that remain even if the image is heavily pixelated. The system can pick out multiple people in a frame, even if they overlap.

Using multiple camera sources, it can then determine if two given targets are the same person by focusing on the distinctive colors of a person’s clothing.

An indoor test of the system was able to track the paths of 80 percent of test subjects, according to the company. Further details of the trial were not immediately available.

“The technology could be used by a business owner when planning the layout of their next restaurant/shop,” a Fujitsu spokesman said via email. “It would also be used by the operators of a large sporting event during times of heavy foot traffic.”

People-tracking know-how has raised privacy concerns in Japan. Last year, the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) was forced to delay and scale down a large, long-term face-recognition study it was planning to carry out at Osaka Station, one of the country’s busiest rail hubs.

The Fujitsu research is being presented to a conference of the Information Processing Society of Japan being held at Tohoku University in northern Japan. The company hopes to improve the accuracy of the system with an aim to commercializing it in the year ending March 31, 2016.

Fujitsu has also been developing retail-oriented technology such as sensors that follow a person’s gaze as he or she looks over merchandise as well as LED lights that can beam product information for smartphones.

Shhh… ProtonMail: Email Privacy and Encryption

Sending an email message is like sending a postcard. That’s the message Hillary Clinton probably now wish she heard earlier.

Andy Yen, a scientist at CERN – the European Organization for Nuclear Research – co-founded ProtonMail, an encrypted email startup based in Geneva, Switzerland. As he explained in this TEDTalk, it is easy to make encryption easy for all to use and keep all email private.

But curiously, it seems so much like PGP.

Shhh… How Come Obama Suddenly Understood & Explained to China Why Backdoors into Encryption is Really Bad?

“Those kinds of restrictive practices I think would ironically hurt the Chinese economy over the long term because I don’t think there is any US or European firm, any international firm, that could credibly get away with that wholesale turning over of data, personal data, over to a government.”

That’s a quote from Obama reported in The Guardian (see article below).

Oh great, so Obama actually understood the consequences of government gaining backdoors into encryption? He should give the same advice to his NSA director Mike Rogers who somehow struggled when asked about the issue recently.

Building backdoors into encryption isn’t only bad for China, Mr President

Trevor Timm
@trevortimm
Wednesday 4 March 2015 16.15 GMT

Want to know why forcing tech companies to build backdoors into encryption is a terrible idea? Look no further than President Obama’s stark criticism of China’s plan to do exactly that on Tuesday. If only he would tell the FBI and NSA the same thing.

In a stunningly short-sighted move, the FBI – and more recently the NSA – have been pushing for a new US law that would force tech companies like Apple and Google to hand over the encryption keys or build backdoors into their products and tools so the government would always have access to our communications. It was only a matter of time before other governments jumped on the bandwagon, and China wasted no time in demanding the same from tech companies a few weeks ago.

As President Obama himself described to Reuters, China has proposed an expansive new “anti-terrorism” bill that “would essentially force all foreign companies, including US companies, to turn over to the Chinese government mechanisms where they can snoop and keep track of all the users of those services.”

Obama continued: “Those kinds of restrictive practices I think would ironically hurt the Chinese economy over the long term because I don’t think there is any US or European firm, any international firm, that could credibly get away with that wholesale turning over of data, personal data, over to a government.”

Bravo! Of course these are the exact arguments for why it would be a disaster for US government to force tech companies to do the same. (Somehow Obama left that part out.)

As Yahoo’s top security executive Alex Stamos told NSA director Mike Rogers in a public confrontation last week, building backdoors into encryption is like “drilling a hole into a windshield.” Even if it’s technically possible to produce the flaw – and we, for some reason, trust the US government never to abuse it – other countries will inevitably demand access for themselves. Companies will no longer be in a position to say no, and even if they did, intelligence services would find the backdoor unilaterally – or just steal the keys outright.

For an example on how this works, look no further than last week’s Snowden revelation that the UK’s intelligence service and the NSA stole the encryption keys for millions of Sim cards used by many of the world’s most popular cell phone providers. It’s happened many times before too. Ss security expert Bruce Schneier has documented with numerous examples, “Back-door access built for the good guys is routinely used by the bad guys.”

Stamos repeatedly (and commendably) pushed the NSA director for an answer on what happens when China or Russia also demand backdoors from tech companies, but Rogers didn’t have an answer prepared at all. He just kept repeating “I think we can work through this”. As Stamos insinuated, maybe Rogers should ask his own staff why we actually can’t work through this, because virtually every technologist agrees backdoors just cannot be secure in practice.

(If you want to further understand the details behind the encryption vs. backdoor debate and how what the NSA director is asking for is quite literally impossible, read this excellent piece by surveillance expert Julian Sanchez.)

It’s downright bizarre that the US government has been warning of the grave cybersecurity risks the country faces while, at the very same time, arguing that we should pass a law that would weaken cybersecurity and put every single citizen at more risk of having their private information stolen by criminals, foreign governments, and our own.

Forcing backdoors will also be disastrous for the US economy as it would be for China’s. US tech companies – which already have suffered billions of dollars of losses overseas because of consumer distrust over their relationships with the NSA – would lose all credibility with users around the world if the FBI and NSA succeed with their plan.

The White House is supposedly coming out with an official policy on encryption sometime this month, according to the New York Times – but the President can save himself a lot of time and just apply his comments about China to the US government. If he knows backdoors in encryption are bad for cybersecurity, privacy, and the economy, why is there even a debate?

Shhh… How to Make Yourself Invisible to Facial Recognition with the New "Privacy Glasses"?

Forget Google Glass, there’s something more fun and useful (picture above) but first, consider this picture below.

FacialRecog-FBI4

It may sounds like the Hollywood movie Matrix but let’s face it, everyone would sooner or later have their photos captured in the public space.

Consider for example, the FBI’s US$1 billion futuristic facial recognition program – the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System – was already up and running with the aim to capture photographs of every Americans and everyone on US soils.

FacialRecog-GovtDB

The pictures above is an example of what the US government had collected of one individual – she filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see what was collected and the Department of Homeland Security subsequently released the data collected under the Global Entry Program.

But apart from immigration checkpoints, and potentially other files from other government departments (local and global), we are also subjected to the millions of CCTV cameras in public areas and the facial recognition programs scanning through the captured images (and also those on the internet and social networks).

So it’s good to know there may be a potential solution – though it’s still early days and it may not apply to cameras at immigration checkpoints.

PrivacyGlasses-AVG4

The (computer) antivirus software company AVG is working on a “privacy glasses” project. These glasses (above) are designed to obfuscate your identity and prevent any facial recognition software from figuring out who you are, either by matching you with the pictures in their database or creating a new file of you for future use.

Find out more from this article below.

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Shhh… US Pressures Forced PayPal to Punish Mega (& MegaChat) for Encrypted Communications & Keeping Our Privacy

This is bizarre (see article below) but a good sign that what Mega offers in encrypted communications is the real deal and the authorities are certainly not impressed, thus the pressures on credit card companies to force Paypal to block out Mega, as they did previously with WikiLeaks.

BUT don’t forget Kim Dotcom’s newly launched end-to-end encrypted voice calling service “MegaChat” comes in both free and paid versions – see my earlier piece on how to register for MegaChat.

Under U.S. Pressure, PayPal Nukes Mega For Encrypting Files

By Andy
on February 27, 2015

After coming under intense pressure PayPal has closed the account of cloud-storage service Mega. According to the company, SOPA proponent Senator Patrick Leahy personally pressured Visa and Mastercard who in turn called on PayPal to terminate the account. Bizarrely, Mega’s encryption is being cited as a key problem.

During September 2014, the Digital Citizens Alliance and Netnames teamed up to publish a brand new report. Titled ‘Behind The Cyberlocker Door: A Report How Shadowy Cyberlockers Use Credit Card Companies to Make Millions,’ it offered insight into the finances of some of the world’s most popular cyberlocker sites.

The report had its issues, however. While many of the sites covered might at best be considered dubious, the inclusion of Mega.co.nz – the most scrutinized file-hosting startup in history – was a real head scratcher. Mega conforms with all relevant laws and responds quickly whenever content owners need something removed. By any standard the company lives up to the requirements of the DMCA.

“We consider the report grossly untrue and highly defamatory of Mega,” Mega CEO Graham Gaylard told TF at the time. But now, just five months on, Mega’s inclusion in the report has come back to bite the company in a big way.

Speaking via email with TorrentFreak this morning, Gaylard highlighted the company’s latest battle, one which has seen the company become unable to process payments from customers. It’s all connected with the NetNames report and has even seen the direct involvement of a U.S. politician.

According to Mega, following the publication of the report last September, SOPA and PIPA proponent Senator Patrick Leahy (Vermont, Chair Senate Judiciary Committee) put Visa and MasterCard under pressure to stop providing payment services to the ‘rogue’ companies listed in the NetNames report.

Following Leahy’s intervention, Visa and MasterCard then pressured PayPal to cease providing payment processing services to MEGA. As a result, Mega is no longer able to process payments.

“It is very disappointing to say the least. PayPal has been under huge pressure,” Gaylard told TF.

The company did not go without a fight, however.

“MEGA provided extensive statistics and other evidence showing that MEGA’s business is legitimate and legally compliant. After discussions that appeared to satisfy PayPal’s queries, MEGA authorised PayPal to share that material with Visa and MasterCard. Eventually PayPal made a non-negotiable decision to immediately terminate services to MEGA,” the company explains.

paypalWhat makes the situation more unusual is that PayPal reportedly apologized to Mega for its withdrawal while acknowledging that company’s business is indeed legitimate.

However, PayPal also advised that Mega’s unique selling point – it’s end-to-end-encryption – was a key concern for the processor.

“MEGA has demonstrated that it is as compliant with its legal obligations as USA cloud storage services operated by Google, Microsoft, Apple, Dropbox, Box, Spideroak etc, but PayPal has advised that MEGA’s ‘unique encryption model’ presents an insurmountable difficulty,” Mega explains.

As of now, Mega is unable to process payments but is working on finding a replacement. In the meantime the company is waiving all storage limits and will not suspend any accounts for non-payment. All accounts have had their subscriptions extended by two months, free of charge.

Mega indicates that it will ride out the storm and will not bow to pressure nor compromise the privacy of its users.

“MEGA supplies cloud storage services to more than 15 million registered customers in more than 200 countries. MEGA will not compromise its end-to-end user controlled encryption model and is proud to not be part of the USA business network that discriminates against legitimate international businesses,” the company concludes.

Shhh… NSA Demands on Crypto Backdoors Led to US-China Spat on Backdoors & Encryption

Photo (above) credit: US-China Perception Monitor.

GlennGreenward-Tweets

The tweet from Glenn Greenwald above sums up the prevailing stance between the US and China (see video clip below) on backdoors and encryption matters – please see also article below.

It’s not like the NSA has not been warned and China may just be the first of many to come.

The United States Is Angry That China Wants Crypto Backdoors, Too

Written by
Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai
February 27, 2015 // 03:44 PM EST

When the US demands technology companies install backdoors for law enforcement, it’s okay. But when China demands the same, it’s a whole different story.

The Chinese government is about to pass a new counter terrorism law that would require tech companies operating in the country to turn over encryption keys and include specially crafted code in their software and hardware so that chinese authorities can defeat security measures at will.

Technologists and cryptographers have long warned that you can’t design a secure system that will enable law enforcement—and only law enforcement—to bypass the encryption. The nature of a backdoor door is that it is also a vulnerability, and if discovered, hackers or foreign governments might be able to exploit it, too.

Yet, over the past few months, several US government officials, including the FBI director James Comey, outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder, and NSA Director Mike Rogers, have all suggested that companies such as Apple and Google should give law enforcement agencies special access to their users’ encrypted data—while somehow offering strong encryption for their users at the same time.


“If the US forces tech companies to install backdoors in encryption, then tech companies will have no choice but to go along with China when they demand the same power.”

Their fear is that cops and feds will “go dark,” an FBI term for a potential scenario where encryption makes it impossible to intercept criminals’ communications.

But in light of China’s new proposals, some think the US’ own position is a little ironic.

“You can’t have it both ways,” Trevor Timm, the co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told Motherboard. “If the US forces tech companies to install backdoors in encryption, then tech companies will have no choice but to go along with China when they demand the same power.”

He’s not the only one to think the US government might end up regretting its stance.


Someday US officials will look back and realize how much global damage they’ve enabled with their silly requests for key escrow.

— Matthew Green (@matthew_d_green) February 27, 2015

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, tweeted that someday US officials will “realize how much damage they’ve enabled” with their “silly requests” for backdoors.

Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, tweeted that someday US officials will “realize how much damage they’ve enabled” with their “silly requests” for backdoors.

Ironically, the US government sent a letter to China expressing concern about its new law. “The Administration is aggressively working to have China walk back from these troubling regulations,” US Trade Representative Michael Froman said in a statement.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment from Motherboard.

“It’s stunningly shortsighted for the FBI and NSA not to realize this,” Timm added. “By demanding backdoors, these US government agencies are putting everyone’s cybersecurity at risk.”

In an oft-cited examples of “if you build it, they will come,” hackers exploited a system designed to let police tap phones to spy on more than a hundred Greek cellphones, including that of the prime minister.

At the time, Steven Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University, wrote that this incident shows how “built-in wiretap facilities and the like are really dangerous, and are easily abused.”

That hasn’t stopped other from asking though. Several countries, including India, Kuwait and UAE, requested BlackBerry to include a backdoor in its devices so that authorities could access encrypted communications. And a leaked document in 2013 revealed that BlackBerry’s lawful interception system in India was “ready for use.”

Shhh… NSA Want Framework to Access Encrypted Communications

NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers said at a cyber security conference in Washington DC Monday this week that the government needs to develop a “framework” so that the NSA and law enforcement agencies could read encrypted data when they need and he was immediately challenged by top security experts from the tech industry, most notably Yahoo’s chief information security officer Alex Stamos (see transcript).

Obama's Still On the Wrong Frequency On Cybersecurity Issues

This is probably the most telling moment of how US President Barack Obama is still on the wrong frequency on cyber matters…

Obama blamed the “impact on their [the tech companies] bottom lines” for the mistrust between the government and Silicon Valley in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations. These were his words, straight from the POTUSA mouth rather than reading from the scripts, in an exclusive interview with Re/code’s Kara Swisher (see video below) following the well publicized cybersecurity summit at Stanford University last Friday, when he signed an executive order to encourage the private sector to share cybersecurity threat information with other companies and the US government.

Contrast that with the high-profile speech by Apple CEO Tim Cook (see video below), who warned about “life and death” and “dire consequences” in sacrificing the right to privacy as technology companies had a duty to protect their customers.

His speech was delivered before Obama’s address to the summit – which the White House organized to foster better cooperation and the sharing of private information with Silicon Valley – best remembered for the absence of leaders from tech giants like Google, Yahoo and Facebook who gave Obama the snub amid growing tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. Heavyweights whom Obama counted as “my friends” in the Re/code interview (watch closely his expression at the 39th second of the clip above).

Shhh… Spy Alert: Your Smart TV Watches You – Just Like Your Computer

This is really nothing new but I’m posting it because similar “news” resurfaced again the past week.

Let’s not forget smart TV are essentially becoming more like computers. And yes, they can watch you and your loved ones discreetly without your knowledge.

If you’ve already bought one, the easy solution is to cover the webcam with a duct tape unless you need to use it.

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.

Shhh… Facial Recognition & Risks: Encoding Your Photos with Photoscrambler

Continuing on my blog post yesterday – shouldn’t one feel guilty about posting photos of their loved ones online without knowing or truly understanding the underlying risks?

Well instead of covering the face(s), how about encoding your photos with personal secret code so that only you and those selected parties can see them? That’s what this software PhotoScrambler is about.

Shhh… Facial Recognition & Risks: How Much Is Your Face Worth?

If you’re still coining your new year resolutions… how about never to post (and tag) any photos of yourself and loved ones online?

Yes, it’s a social norm these days – just look at the Facebook sphere – but I can’t explain the risks better than this excellent presentation (below) from the Make Use Of blog about facial recognition technology and the risks of posting our photos online.

Food for thoughts?

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New US Sanctions on North Korea – Comparing Sony & the World’s Biggest Data Breaches

In what looks like the opening salvo in response to the major cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, the United States slapped North Korea with a new round of sanctions last Friday when President Obama signed an Executive Order authorizing the imposition of sanctions and designated 3 entities and 10 individuals for being agencies or officials of the North Korean government.

According to a Treasury Department statement:

databreach-Sanctions

databreach-Sanctions2

The identifiers of these 10 individuals are:

databreach-Sanctions3

But the US government knew sanctions have had limited impact on the Hermit Kingdom. The new sanctions might be deemed as swift and decisive measures in some quarters but it is really nothing more than a window-dressing of sorts – much like animating a gun with one’s fingers under a coat as a first warning at best. Consider, for example, what kind of impact should one expect from these new sanctions anyway? The 3 organizations were already on the US sanctions list and the 10 North Koreans are highly unlikely to have assets in the US, at least not under their name.

In any case, the horizon ahead of 2015 is likely to be proliferated with more headlines about catastrophic data breaches.

And the Sony cyberattack actually pale in comparison to other data breaches on record, as shown (below) by independent data journalist and information designer David McCandless – you can also click on the bubbles to find out about these cases shown in the chart and table nicely compiled and presented in his blog.

databreachChart1
databreachChart2
databreachChart3

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… Former NSA Attorney: Encryption Behind Blackberry's Demise & Warning to Apple and Google

The authorities hate smartphone encryption and it shows. And they’re in concerted efforts to wage a war against it.

In echoing the recent messages from FBI director James Comey and GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan, former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker told the Web Summit audience in Dublin earlier this week that the moves by Google and Apple and others to encrypt user data was more hostile to western intelligence gathering than to surveillance by China or Russia.

In a conversation with Guardian special projects editor James Ball, Baker used Blackberry as an example:

Encrypting user data had been a bad business model for Blackberry, which has had to dramatically downsize its business and refocus on business customers. “Blackberry pioneered the same business model that Google and Apple are doing now – that has not ended well for Blackberry,” said Baker.

He claimed that by encrypting user data Blackberry had limited its business in countries that demand oversight of communication data, such as India and the UAE and got a bad reception in China and Russia. “They restricted their own ability to sell. We have a tendency to think that once the cyberwar is won in the US that that is the end of it – but that is the easiest war to swim.”

Baker said the market for absolute encryption was very small, and that few companies wanted all their employees’ data to be completely protected. “There’s a very comfortable techno-libertarian culture where you think you’re doing the right thing,” said Baker.

“But I’ve worked with these companies and as soon as they get a law enforcement request no matter how liberal or enlightened they think they are, sooner to later they find some crime that is so loathsome they will do anything to find that person and identify them so they can be punished.

This latest anti-encryption blabbing drew quick defense from Blackberry COO Marty Beard, who found Baker’s remarks “don’t make any sense”.

“Security is a topic that’s increasing in importance,” Beard told the audience at FedScoop’s FedTalks event Thursday. “It’s the reason that all G7 countries and the G20 work with BlackBerry.

“We just see it growing in importance. The increasing cybersecurity threats are exploding, security across all [technology] layers is critical.”

Shhh… When the Postman Became A Spy

Question: If the NSA managed to threaten and make Internet and technology giants like Yahoo, Google, Apple, Facebook, etc to hand over our metadata, who else could they target?

The US Postal Service?

And why not – since the information like names, addresses and postmark dates of both the senders and recipients conveniently splashed on the package covers could provide valuable investigative leads to law enforcement agencies?

As it turned out, the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) — the internal watchdog of the postal service – found that “USPS captured information from the outside of about 49,000 pieces of consumer mail in 2013 and turned much of it over to law enforcement organizations throughout the country, unbeknownst to the intended senders and recipients” – see full story below.

And why then should one trust the postal services outside the US – given the Snowden revelations also revealed how intelligence agencies across the globe have duly followed the NSA leads?

The US Postal Service has been quietly surveilling more mail than anyone thought

Program captured information from the outside of 49,000 pieces of mail in 2013 alone, sharing it with law enforcement agents

By Carl Franzen on October 28, 2014 02:15 pm

Snail mail is growing steadily less popular thanks to the internet, but people in the US still send lots of it every year — over 158 billion pieces of mail were handled by the US Postal Service in 2013 alone. As it turns out, the USPS has also been quietly spying on way more of the mail passing through its doors than previously acknowledged. A report from the agency’s internal watchdog — the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) — found that USPS captured information from the outside of about 49,000 pieces of consumer mail in 2013 and turned much of it over to law enforcement organizations throughout the country, unbeknownst to the intended senders and recipients. This information reportedly did not include the contents of letters and packages, but rather was limited to the information appearing only on the exterior, such as names, addresses, and postmark dates.

The report on the USPS information capturing program, called “mail covers,” was initially published to little fanfare over the summer and subsequently reported on by Politico, but is getting more attention now with an article appearing today in The New York Times that includes additional details.

First some background: the mail covers program is hardly new, it’s been in existence for over a hundred years, as The Times notes. It’s also not as invasive as a full search warrant for the contents of mail, which the USPS also grants (although only for federal search warrants; state search warrants aren’t accepted by the agency). In a guide for law enforcement agencies, the USPS explains exactly how the program works: a police officer/law enforcement agent needs to be already conducting an investigation into a suspected felony and have the names and addresses for their intended surveillance targets. The officer must send this information to the USPS through the mail or provide it verbally (in person or over the phone), along with a reason why the mail cover is needed. Then the USPS will begin capturing the information from the exterior of all the targets’ incoming and outgoing mail for up to 30 days (although extensions are available). The USPS says that “information from a mail cover often provides valuable investigative leads,” but adds that it “is confidential and should be restricted to those persons who are participating in the investigation.”

However, as the OIG report found, there are numerous problems with the way the USPS has been running the mail covers program. For starters, the USPS has a mail cover app that apparently doesn’t work very well and is blamed for the agency continuing to capture information from the mail of 928 targets even after the surveillance period was supposed to have ended. The USPS also appears to have started mail cover surveillance on targets without sufficient justification from law enforcement as to why it was needed, and some USPS employees didn’t even keep the written justification on file like they were supposed to. And in a further failure of duty, several mail covers weren’t started on time. Perhaps most troubling of all, the USPS doesn’t appear to have been accurately reporting the total number of mail covers in its official records provided to the Times under Freedom of Information Act requests, which show only 100,000 total requests for mail surveillance between 2001 and 2012 (an average of 8,000 a year, way fewer than the 49,000 mail covers acknowledged in the OIG report). The USPS said it agreed with the findings of the OIG report and would work to implement changes, but for an agency already struggling with how to move into the future, the findings are hardly good news.

Shhh… Tim Cook in China to Discuss Data Protection & iCloud Hacks

Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted his photo Wednesday during a China “road trip” where he visited Foxconn and also met Chinese vice premier Ma Kai in Beijing to discuss recent targeted attacks on iCloud originating from the country – The activist group GreatFire.org has reportedly alleged Chinese government involvement.

Meanwhile, Apple has published a guide on how one can verify the authenticity of the iCloud website in Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

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.

Cloud Hacks More Than Just Nude Pics

Ever Thought of More Catastrophic Consequences?

The sensational invasion last week by hackers into dozens of pictures of nude Hollywood celebrities was a wardrobe malfunction on major scale, but it is time to take a more serious look beyond the alluring pictures. The world is heading for more catastrophic consequences in the cloud.

The leaks of the celebrities’ photos went viral online after hackers used new “brute force” attacks to break into the victims’ online accounts, casting the spotlight on the security of cloud computing.

But the disturbing and often overlooked question is, why are so many companies still blindly and trustingly moving ever more data into the cloud, where online access to highly confidential information related to clients, customers, employees, deals, business plans and performances and worst of all, our personal details, is left seemingly and increasingly more vulnerable?

Please refer to my entire column here.

Shhh… (Another) New Chinese OS by October

A new homegrown Chinese operating system aimed to sweep aside foreign rivals like Microsoft, Google and Apple could be expected this coming October, according to a Xinhua news report Sunday.

The new OS would first target desktops with smartphones and other mobile devices to follow, according to Ni Guangnan who heads the development launched in March.

Now, it’s not that China has not attempted to create its very own OS. There was a Chinese Linux OS launched some years ago for mobile devices, dubbed the China Operating System (COS). It was developed as a joint effort by a company ‘Shanghai Liantong’, ISCAS (Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the Chinese Government. But it failed to take off and was later discontinued.

But the Chinese determination to have its very own system has risen a few bars recently, not least further sparked by the Snowden revelations that the American NSA planted “backdoor” surveillance tools on US-made hardware. Similarly the US have long been suspicious of China-made devices – Hmmm, is it still possible to get laptops with NO parts made in China? Check out my earlier column here if you are keen.

More recently, after the US made poster-boys of 5 Chinese military officers they accused of cyber-espionage in May, China swiftly banned government use of Windows 8. Just last month, it was also reported that as many as 10 Apple products were pulled out of a government procurement list as the spate of mistrusts continued.

China also lamented early last year that Google had too much control over its smartphone industry via its Android mobile operating system and has discriminated against some local firms.

Any bets on a fake Chinese OS any time soon – and sooner than October?

Shhh… the NSA’s special app for iPhones

The NSA has a special DROPOUTJEEP program for all Apple devices including the iPhones to intercept all SMS messages, collect contact lists, locate a phone (and its user/owner) and also activate the device’s microphone and camera with 100 percent success rate, according to a leaked document obtained by German magazine Der Speigel and a presentation by security researcher/independent journalist Jacob Applebaum, who said:

“[The NSA] literally claim that anytime they target an iOS device that it will succeed for implantation. Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products, meaning that they are hoarding information about critical systems that American companies produce and sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it themselves. Not sure which one it is. I’d like to believe that since Apple didn’t join the PRISM program until after Steve Jobs died, that maybe it’s just that they write sh—y software. We know that’s true.”

I wrote in Sept 2012 that the NSA and Defense Information Systems Agency (the unit that manages all communications hardware needs for the Pentagon) issued their own specially developed smartphones for their top level officials. And they chose Android – no surprise now?!

Check out this NSA doc and YouTube presentation.

Shhh… the NSA's special app for iPhones

The NSA has a special DROPOUTJEEP program for all Apple devices including the iPhones to intercept all SMS messages, collect contact lists, locate a phone (and its user/owner) and also activate the device’s microphone and camera with 100 percent success rate, according to a leaked document obtained by German magazine Der Speigel and a presentation by security researcher/independent journalist Jacob Applebaum, who said:

“[The NSA] literally claim that anytime they target an iOS device that it will succeed for implantation. Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products, meaning that they are hoarding information about critical systems that American companies produce and sabotaging them, or Apple sabotaged it themselves. Not sure which one it is. I’d like to believe that since Apple didn’t join the PRISM program until after Steve Jobs died, that maybe it’s just that they write sh—y software. We know that’s true.”

I wrote in Sept 2012 that the NSA and Defense Information Systems Agency (the unit that manages all communications hardware needs for the Pentagon) issued their own specially developed smartphones for their top level officials. And they chose Android – no surprise now?!

Check out this NSA doc and YouTube presentation.

The Enemies of the US

Take your pick: Edward Snowden, Internet and phone service providers, or just everybody?

The furor over the past week about how US intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for years scooped up massive loads of private communications data raises one critical and distressing question.

Who, worldwide and in the US, are the general public supposed to trust now that it seems all forms of digital and cyber communications risk being read by the American authorities? The Americans, it seems, don’t believe it’s that big a deal. By 62-34, according to the latest poll by Pew Research and the Washington Post, they say it’s more important to investigate the threats than protect their privacy. But what about the rest of the world?

The immediate acknowledgement, rather than point blank denial, of the massive clandestine eavesdropping programs is no doubt alarming even for those long suspicious of such covert undertakings. But the more disturbing part is that the official response amounts to plain outright lies.

Please read this entire Opinion Column here.

Inspecting the Inspectors

I love my MacBook, as well as my iPhone and iPod. But I now wonder if I will have the same personal struggle I had with Nike more than a decade ago.

Despite all the recent frenzy in the papers about the upcoming public listing of Facebook, Jeffrey Lin and “Lin- sanity” at the New York Knicks, Apple has continued to grab the headlines.

This is not only because its stock topped a record US$500 or chaos at Apple Stores in China when the iPhone4s first went on sale, but also due to the disclosure last week that working conditions at mainland plants making Apple products would be audited and the findings will be made public by an outside independent party.

Wait a minute, did I say independent? (Read the entire column here and there).