When Chaos Trumps Security

Lapse in Taipei a Lesson for Hong Kong

It doesn’t take much for unfolding events to break down security, especially if security forces aren’t well trained to handle unexpected situations. The continuing standoff between the Taiwan government and protesters over the lack of transparency during the negotiations of a cross-Strait services pact between Taipei and Beijing has stolen global headlines and illustrates that scenario.

Scores of university students stormed the legislative chamber in Taipei on March 18, leading to the continued unrest that has been dubbed the “Sunflower Movement”. That was followed by 100,000 people who gathered for a sit-in protest outside the Presidential Office Building earlier this month.

Contentious issues aside, the entire episode – with memorable scenes of students fending off the raiding police by piling entrances and exits with furniture and riot police using batons and water cannons on them – prompted the nagging question: Was security at the government buildings in Taipei so lax and easily penetrable? Definitely, from my personal experience.

Please find the entire column here.

Big Brother Meets Big Data

The Security Assault on Social Networks

Forget hacking. It works but it’s illegal.

Big data mining is the future of cyber espionage. It is not illegal as long as the data is open source and in the public domain. And all that data on “open” social networking Web sites are most vulnerable.

Two recent commercially developed software packages could soon be giving your government and employer and possibly anyone else who is interested – ways to spy on you like never before, including monitoring your words, your movements and even your plans now and into the future.

Please read the full column here and there.

DIY Counter Espionage

Spying on Spies

The FBI probe into the scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus and his mistress may have stolen global headlines the past week.

But there is something else the FBI knows that should warrant more attention. Something closer to those of us less exalted than the boss of the world’s most famous spy agency.

The FBI is known to have video footage, covertly taken in a hotel room somewhere in China, showing how Chinese agents broke in and swept through the belongings and laptop of an American businessman.

There were recent media reports of similar incidents. The FBI is now showing the clip as a warning to corporate security experts of major US companies.

The FBI also warned some months ago about the risks of using hotel wi-fi networks and recommended all government officials, businessmen and academic personnel take extra caution when traveling abroad.

Whilst the corporate world is often most at risks, the average citizens are also highly vulnerable, especially to electronic surveillance on home and foreign soil.

So what can one do to protect the personal data and business secrets on the computers, especially when traveling abroad?

Please read full article here and there.

How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data

A little secret and long overdue column – as I have promised some weeks ago.

How about leading a cyber lifestyle without the risks of compromising your computer, privacy and precious confidential data… ie. your life?!

There’s an easy solution and you do not have to be a computer expert. But the CIA, MI6, etc, wouldn’t want you to know the trick… because you can beat those spies and hackers by going online and leaving no trace.

Read the full article here.

Shhh… US Still At Loss on Cyber Espionage War

In the increasingly pugnacious cyber espionage war, the US is not only admittedly losing out to countries like China and Russia but the real headline news is, the US is still at a loss on how to protect itself against the massive intellectual property threats on its very turf.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers told audience at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) cyber conference, held on 26 September in Washington DC, that the US is “running out of time” – US government officials have stated that no country engages in cyber espionage as systematically, thoroughly and broadly as China and the theft of critical intellectual property is billing up to US$1 trillion.

The Rogers-Ruppersberger Bill designed to stem the tide is facing resistance at the Senate.

This Bill proposed to offer business liability insurance cover to the business community. In return, the victimized companies would have to share their threat information with the government, who will in turn share that experience with the business world.

(What? Are you kidding me?! Okay, I hear you at the back row).

Need I say more? Find out more about it here.

Shhh… Spying on Journalists

The Pentagon’s recent sworn: They won’t spy on journalists.

(Yeah right…. Yes, I hear you at the back.)

The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave an order July 19 to clampdown on classified leaks from the Pentagon and “monitor all major, national level reporting”.

This raised immediate concerns amongst the press as journalists wondered: is the Pentagon planning to spy on their very act of reporting or simply to conduct wide-sweeping news scans for supposedly leaked information? The former, left to one’s imagination, could include wiretapping, surveillance and various forms of intrusive acts.

The Pentagon press secretary George Little reportedly replied in writing:

“The secretary and the chairman both believe strongly in freedom of the press and encourage good relations between the department and the press corps.” (Read this).

Meanwhile, a true story, I know a journalist who was spied upon by a Chinese intelligence agent.

The agent apparently tried to recruit the reporter by offering “huge rewards” if he cooperates and collects information about certain individuals under the pretense of combing background data for potential stories.

This journo friend declined outright but not long after, he suspected his phones were bugged and asked for help.

My advice?

Quite simply though cumbersome: buy and replace regularly several low-value, use-and-dispose SIM cards, several used cellular phones (the pre-smartphone days type like those good old Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, etc) and used laptops.

In short, change your phone and cyber lifestyle – at least for the time being (Refer to my earlier commentary: Shhh… How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data).

Shhh… Spies Boundary

I just picked up 2 interesting reports on surveillance matters.

It was reported that the FBI claimed its surveillance on those involved in the Occupy movement is within legal boundaries and did not cause “unnecessary intrusions into the lives of law-abiding people.”

This came after the American Civil Liberties Union used the Freedom of Information Act to secure FBI surveillance documents on the movement in a lawsuit and asked why the agency withheld two-thirds of its records and subsequently cited national security as a reason for the nondisclosure (Read this).

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the civil rights group Liberty used the UK Data Protection Act to represent a disabled woman in a legal action against a commercial security firm and its undercover surveillance “usual practice” which, as part of their investigative works for insurance companies, send agents disguised as delivery men to spy on the sick and disabled in their homes (Read this).

These are just going to lead to endless debates. Watch this space, I might post a column on this topic.

 

Spies and the Airport Screening Machine

The US works out a free ride for its spooks

I have always fancied having a smorgasbord of passports, each bearing a different name, country of citizenship and photo — just like the spies as we know them, or at least as we understand them from spy fiction and movies like James Bond and CIA agent Jason Bourne in the Bourne Trilogy movies.

However, airport security checks and immigration clearance must be a nightmare for real spies, undercover agents and intelligence officials these days as governments, increasingly wary of the growing sophistication of terrorists, have invented new technologies to try to detect them. Hence the increased tight security measures at airports over the world have created lots of inconvenience for the intelligence community. And the pseudo passports probably don’t even work, given the facial recognition checks on top of the fingerprint hassles that have become commonplace at immigration checkpoints across the globe.

The spymasters know and they care, and they set out to do something about it.

So in late July, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the agency within the US Department of Homeland Security that exercises authority over the security of the traveling public in America – reportedly put procedures in place to allow the employees of three US intelligence agencies to pass un-scrutinized through airport security checks with convenience… (Read the entire column here and there).

Shhh… The Safest Place to Hide Your Data

… is possibly in your mouth?!

I’m glad I have not gone that far yet but nevertheless happy to read this piece of news article. I always advised my friends not to leave their computers and phones in their hotel room, or unattended for that matter, as spies will not only break into their room but also their devices. In fact, in certain countries, these agents are tasked to target certain individuals and business travelers the moment they left the airport. And they will wait patiently for the opportunity to penetrate their data. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the city and the hotel, the bigger the risks… because Ahem, I know only too well from… never mind.

Anyway, no one seems to believe or take it seriously. So I’m glad this story printed not only what I always wanted to say but also gave insights on some interesting counter-measures. Kind of paranoid for the men on the streets but… I hope you don’t have to go so far as planting the SD card in your mouth.

Shhh… New Phones for Spies

Christmas comes early for spies this year.

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

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

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

Shhh… New iPhone Spy App to Log the World

It’s the App, Stupid!

Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s often the software that matters more than the hardware.

Whilst the countdown to the new iPhone 5 release is grabbing headlines, there is reportedly a new Spy App for iPhone that should deserve even more attention. This is unlike any other past so called iPhone Spy software: imagine you can log all incoming and outgoing phone calls and SMS of a chosen target’s phone?!

Yes, I know. The potential for this new iPhone Spy App, if it’s true, will simply blow your socks off…

Shhh… How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data

Business travel is a nightmare these days, especially when one visits a country known for high espionage/ corporate espionage activities or active government eavesdropping and wiretapping.

So what if you need to transmit confidential data, sensitive business information and trade secrets via emails or the cloud? Or simply access your online banking account?

Public wifi pose significant risks. The Internet connection in your hotel room is not any better. And you can forget the Internet cafe.

No worries, there’s a solution and I will soon be posting a column on this matter. Watch this space.

Pay Packages Are Not Licensed to Thrill

Kudos to the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

What better way to celebrate true British culture and identity (and yes, humor) than to have James Bond (actor Daniel Craig) escorting the Queen to the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in true 007 fashion?

A brilliant idea, but I have three immediate wishes.

I wish other English spy characters like Austin Powers and Johnny English had also featured in this truly comedic, quintessentially British moment.

I also wish all the past screen Bond actors were on hand to usher Her Majesty to her seat.

And I wish, ahem, US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would play the role of party pooper and jump out of nowhere to spoil the event in his very own disconcerting way.

Well, no worries, all the real Bonds and security staff would jump forward to salvage the moment.

Fat chance.

The real Bonds are clearly stirred, shaken and not at all prepared to take extra risks, given their low morale and jaw-dropping poor compensation package. And the general public would probably not count on the outsourced security and protection industry as well (Read the entire column here and there).

No Ordinary CSI: Mobile Phone Forensics

If it falls into the wrong hands, it could cause you plenty of trouble

I love my iPhone but I always look at it with deep suspicion. It probably knows more about me than my puffy pillows. But unlike them, it could easily betray me one day.

Blame it on Steve Jobs but I assume I’m not alone. Most of us have fallen prey to the modern digital world.

We take for granted the unlimited things we can do with our smartphones.

But, by using the devices, we are increasingly exposing ourselves to bottomless risks (Read the entire column here and there).