Shhh… Spy Game: The Thais, the Israelis & the Wiretapping Devices

Perhaps the Thai army (see story below) felt insulted being left out of the spy game…?

ThaiArmy


Army interrupts Israeli demonstration of wiretapping devices to Special Branch Bureau

May 8, 2015 12:24 pm

BANGKOK: A group of soldiers today raided the meeting room of the Special Branch Bureau and detained nine Israeli technicians and staff while they were demonstrating electronic wire tapping devices to special branch police.

But after the interruption of the planned demonstration by soldiers from the Second Calvary Division of the First Army Region, Royal Thai Police commissioner Pol Gen Somyot Phumphanmuang came out to defend the demonstration saying it was merely a misunderstanding caused by misinformation.

The commissioner said the Royal Thai Police and the Special Branch Bureau have been allocated budget from the government to procure wiretapping devices for use.

He said an Israeli supplier has approached the Royal Thai Police and scheduled today to demonstrate its devices.

However he said as the Army has learned of the Israeli approach, it then asked the firm to explain whether these electronic devices have been granted import permission legitimately or not.

He said the soldiers then invited the Israeli technicians and staff to their office for clarification and to display import documents.

He said the Israeli firm has insisted all its devices have been imported for demonstration legally.

Pol Gen Somyot said an Army colonel had phoned him saying he suspected some devices might be illegally smuggled into the country and sought his permission to interrupt the demonstration.

The commissioner recalled he immediately rang the First Army Region commander and the commander of the Second Calvary Division and also explained to the Israeli technicians of the Army’s request and the firm agreed to cooperate.

Pol Gen Somyot added it happened because of misunderstanding and he would ask the firm to return again for demonstration.

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… The WikiLeaks' CIA Travel Guide

I like to share with you the latest WikiLeaks release, “CIA Travel Advice to Operatives”. Its press release is pasted below (click here for the full report).

And I find it appropriate to highlight an earlier column, Spies and the Airport Screening Machine.

Enjoy!

CIA Travel Advice to Operatives – Press Release

Today, 21 December 2014, WikiLeaks releases two classified documents by a previously undisclosed CIA office detailing how to maintain cover while travelling through airports using false ID – including during operations to infiltrate the European Union and the Schengen passport control system. This is the second release within WikiLeaks’ CIA Series, which will continue in the new year.

The two classified documents aim to assist CIA undercover officials to circumvent these systems around the world. They detail border-crossing and visa regulations, the scope and content of electronic systems, border guard protocols and procedures for secondary screenings. The documents show that the CIA has developed an extreme concern over how biometric databases will put CIA clandestine operations at risk – databases other parts of the US government made prevalent post-9/11.

How to Survive Secondary Screening without Blowing your CIA Cover

The CIA manual “Surviving Secondary”, dated 21 September 2011, details what happens in an airport secondary screening in different airports around the world and how to pass as a CIA undercover operative while preserving one’s cover. Among the reasons for why secondary screening would occur are: if the traveller is on a watchlist (noting that watchlists can often contain details of intelligence officials); or is found with contraband; or “because the inspector suspects that something about the traveler is not right”.

The highlighted box titled “The Importance of Maintaining Cover––No Matter What” at the end of the document provides an example of an occasion when a CIA officer was selected for secondary screening at an EU airport. During the screening his baggage was swiped and traces of explosives found. The officer “gave the cover story” to explain the explosives; that he had been in counterterrorism training in Washington, DC. Although he was eventually allowed to continue, this example begs the question: if the training that supposedly explained the explosives was only a cover story, what was a CIA officer really doing passing through an EU airport with traces of explosives on him, and why was he allowed to continue?

The CIA identifies secondary screening as a threat in maintaining cover due to the breadth and depth of the searches, including detailed questioning, searches of personal belongings and electronic databases and collection of biometrics “all of which focus significant scrutiny on an operational traveler”.

The manual provides advice on how best to prepare for and pass such a process: having a “consistent, well-rehearsed, and plausible cover”. It also explains the benefits of preparing an online persona (for example, Linked-In and Twitter) that aligns with the cover identity, and the importance of carrying no electronic devices with accounts that are not for the cover identity, as well as being mentally prepared.

CIA Overview of EU Schengen Border Control

The second document in this release, “Schengen Overview”, is dated January 2012 and details guidelines for border officials in the EU’s Schengen zone and the threats their procedures might pose in exposing the “alias identities of tradecraft-conscious operational travelers”, the CIA terminology for US spies travelling with false ID during a clandestine operation. It outlines how various electronic systems within Schengen work and the risks they pose to clandestine US operatives, including the Schengen Information System (SIS), the European fingerprint database EURODAC (European Dactyloscopie) and FRONTEX (Frontières extérieures) – the EU agency responsible for easing travel between member states while maintaining security.

While Schengen currently does not use a biometric system for people travelling with US documents, if it did this “would increase the identity threat level” and, the report warns, this is likely to come into place in 2015 with the EU’s Entry/Exit System (EES). Currently, the Visa Information System (VIS), operated by a number of Schengen states in certain foreign consular posts, provides the most concern to the CIA as it includes an electronic fingerprint database that aims to expose travellers who are attempting to use multiple and false identities. As use of the VIS system grows it will increase the “identity threat for non-US-documented travelers”, which would narrow the possible false national identities the CIA could issue for undercover operatives.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange said: “The CIA has carried out kidnappings from European Union states, including Italy and Sweden, during the Bush administration. These manuals show that under the Obama administration the CIA is still intent on infiltrating European Union borders and conducting clandestine operations in EU member states.”

Both documents are classified and marked NOFORN (preventing allied intelligence liaison officers from reading it). The document detailing advice on maintaining cover through secondary screening also carries the classification ORCON (originator controlled) and specifically allows distribution to Executive Branch Departments/Agencies of the US government with the appropriate clearance, facilitating clandestine operations by the other 16 known US government spy agencies. Both documents were produced by a previously unknown office of the CIA: CHECKPOINT, situated in the Identity Intelligence Center (i2c) within the Directorate of Science and Technology. CHECKPOINT specifically focuses on “providing tailored identity and travel intelligence” including by creating documents such as those published today designed specifically to advise CIA personnel on protecting their identities while travelling undercover.

Shhh… Lawsuit After Proof of British Police Spying on Reporters for Years

A media friend once revealed how a stranger called him to offer some leaks, tried to force him to disclose his sources (which he declined) when they met and eventually coerced him to cooperate or “bear the consequences”.

He sought my advice after running away from the stranger – that he assumed to be a Chinese spy – as he reckoned all his communication channels have been snooped. It was a fear he lives to this day.

I suppose he is not as “lucky” as these British journalists (see story below), who filed a lawsuit against the London’s Metropolitan Police and Britain’s Home Office after they discovered evidence of how the British police have spent years stalking and detailing their movements.

UK Police Spied on Reporters for Years, Docs Show

LONDON — Nov 21, 2014, 12:28 PM ET
By RAPHAEL SATTER Associated Press

Freelance video journalist Jason Parkinson returned home from vacation this year to find a brown paper envelope in his mailbox. He opened it to find nine years of his life laid out in shocking detail.

Twelve pages of police intelligence logs noted which protests he
covered, who he spoke to and what he wore all the way down to the color of his boots. It was, he said, proof of something he’d long suspected: The police were watching him.

“Finally,” he thought as he leafed through documents over a strong black coffee, “we’ve got them.”

Parkinson’s documents, obtained through a public records request, are the basis of a lawsuit being filed by the National Union of Journalists against London’s Metropolitan Police and Britain’s Home Office. The lawsuit, announced late Thursday, along with recent revelations about the seizure of reporters’ phone records, is pulling back the curtain on how British police have spent years tracking the movements of the country’s news media.

“This is another extremely worrying example of the police monitoring journalists who are undertaking their proper duties,” said Paul Lashmar, who heads the journalism department at Britain’s Brunel University.

The Metropolitan Police and the Home Office both declined to comment.

Parkinson, three photographers, an investigative journalist and a newspaper reporter are filing the lawsuit after obtaining their surveillance records. Parkinson, a 44-year-old freelancer who has covered hundreds of protests some of them for The Associated Press said he and his colleagues had long suspected that the police were monitoring them.

“Police officers we’d never even met before knew our names and seemed to know a hell of a lot about us,” he said.

Several journalists told AP the records police kept on them were sometimes startling, sometimes funny and occasionally wrong.

One intelligence report showed that police spotted Parkinson cycling near his then-home in northwest London and carried detailed information about him and his partner at the time.

Jules Mattsson, a 21-year-old journalist with the Times of London, says another record carried a mention of a family member’s medical history, something he says made him so upset he called the police to demand an explanation.

“No one could possibly defend this,” he said.

Jess Hurd, a 41-year-old freelance photographer and Parkinson’s partner, said she was worried the intelligence logs were being shared internationally.

“I go to a lot of countries on assignment,” she said. “Where are these database logs being shared? Who with, for what purpose?”

The revelations add to public disclosures about British police secretly seizing journalists’ telephone records in leak investigations. Several senior officers have recently acknowledged using anti-terrorism powers to uncover journalists’ sources by combing through the records.

Some police argue they’re hunting for corrupt officers, a particularly salient issue in the wake of Britain’s phone hacking scandal, which exposed how British tabloid journalists routinely paid officers in exchange for scoops.

It isn’t yet clear how often the practice takes place, but the admission drew concern in Parliament and outrage from media groups.
Lashmar, a member of the National Union of Journalists who is not involved in the lawsuit, said the specter of terrorism was pushing police to be bolder and bolder about how closely they watch the nation’s press.

“Police seem to have got the message that journalists are now fair game and you can surveil and watch them,” he said.

Shhh… The Puppet Master Putin & Russia’s Escalating Spy Operations

The decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to leave the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia prematurely earlier this week, following a cold reception by other world leaders for his incursion into Ukraine, hit the global headlines but Putin, who bailed himself out on sleep deprivation grounds, might actually be laughing on his flight back to Moscow: his recognition of the rapidly deteriorating relations with the West and fear of being surrounded by enemies have probably justified his decision to beef up Russia’s espionage operations.

But it was probably for the same reason – the increased efforts in intelligence gathering – and its consequences that also prompted Putin to rush back to the Krelim.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry earlier this week, Poland “made such an unfriendly and incomprehensible step” to expel some of its diplomats and subsequently:

Russia undertook adequate response measures. Several Polish diplomats have left the territory of our country for the activities not compatible with their status.

The Russian media reported last weekend that Moscow has deported former Latvian parliamentarian Aleksejs Holostovs after its intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), alleged Holostovs of spying for both Latvia and America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine also reported last weekend that a female diplomat at the German embassy in Moscow was expelled after a Russian diplomat working in Bonn was forced to leave amid media reports the latter was a spy.

There could be more to come following these sudden frenzies on the deportations of suspected Russian spies, and Russia’s (usual) tit-for-tat response, much reminiscent of the Cold War era.

And speaking of the Cold War, here’s a nice wrap up (below) from The Moscow Times about 6 spies who have defined that era.

One lasting impression I had on Robert Hanssen (below) – a former US Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States for 22 years from 1979 to 2001 – was the book Spy: The Inside Story of How FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America which described Hanssen’s initial reaction when he was eventually caught:

“What took you so long?!”

Six Spies Who Defined the Cold War Era
The Moscow Times Nov. 17 2014 21:54

AldrichAmes

1. Aldrich Ames

Plagued by drinking problems and a propensity toward extramarital affairs, Ames was lured into spying for the Soviet Union by the promise of money. Over the course of nine years, he received $4.6 million for revealing at least eight CIA sources. He was arrested in 1994 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

RobertHanssen

2. Robert Hanssen

Also motivated by the siren’s song of money, Hanssen worked for both the Soviet Union and Russia. He was suspected of acting as a double agent on a number of occasions, but was only arrested in 2001 while dropping off a garbage bag full of information in a park near Washington D.C. The failure to identify him for several decades was described by the U.S. Justice Department as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history.” Hanssen was sentenced to life imprisonment.

DmitriPolyakov

3. Dmitri Polyakov

Both Hanssen and Ames reportedly exposed Polyakov’s work as a CIA agent. A Soviet major general and a high-ranking GRU military intelligence officer, Polyakov served as a CIA informant for 25 years, ultimately becoming one of the best sources for the agency, providing information on the growing rift between the Soviet Union and China. He was arrested by the KGB in 1986, sentenced to death and executed in 1988. According to CIA officers who worked with him, he provided the information out of principle, not for money.

KimPhilby

4. Kim Philby

Philby was the most successful member of the Cambridge Five, a group of British spies who — driven by their socialist beliefs — defected to the Soviet Union. Philby was MI-6’s director for counter-espionage operations. In particular, he was responsible for fighting Soviet subversion activities in Western Europe. After arousing suspicion that he might be a defector, Philby was dismissed from his post and from MI-6 overall in 1956. He fled to the Soviet Union in 1963, where he lived until his death from heart failure in Moscow in 1988.

OlegGordievsky

5. Oleg Gordievsky

After growing disenchanted with the KGB and the Soviet Union, Gordievsky, a KGB colonel, became a longtime high-ranking spy for MI-6. In 1982, he was promoted to manage Soviet espionage in Britain as a resident in the London Embassy. He was called back to Moscow on suspicion of working for a foreign power, but the British managed to smuggle him out of the country. He has lived in England ever since.

ArkadyShevchenko

6. Arkady Shevchenko

Shevchenko was one of the highest-ranking Soviet officials to defect to the West. Working as undersecretary general of the United Nations, he became a CIA informant in 1975. Shevchenko was often referred to as a triple agent: While working as a Soviet diplomat at the UN, he was allegedly passing secrets to the U.S. In 1978 he fled to the U.S., dying of cirrhosis of the liver there in 1998.

Shhh… BadUSB Evil Accessories

Think thrice next time before you plug in USB devices like keyboard, flash memory, webcam, speakers, hub, mice, etc, into your computer as the occasional virus scan and install is no longer safe.

ToyUSB

Several reports have now emerged that hackers could now load malicious software onto cheap petite chips that control the functions inside these devices which have nothing to shield against any tampering of their code.

In other words, these so called BadUSB are reprogrammed into a new form of covert weapons to spoof and take control of a computer, smuggle out data and also spy on the user.

Karsten Nohl, chief scientist with Berlin’s SR Labs will demonstrate these findings in a Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas scheduled 2-7 August 2014.

 

Shhh… GCHQ's Hacking Tools Leaked

The latest Snowden revelations include a leaked document that lists the cyber-spy tools and techniques used by the American NSA’s UK counterpart GCHQ, according to a BBC News report.

More disturbing point: the GCHQ apparently used its toolbox to find ways to “alter the outcome of online polls, find private Facebook photos, and send spoof emails that appeared to be from Blackberry users, among other things”.

Shhh… GCHQ’s Hacking Tools Leaked

The latest Snowden revelations include a leaked document that lists the cyber-spy tools and techniques used by the American NSA’s UK counterpart GCHQ, according to a BBC News report.

More disturbing point: the GCHQ apparently used its toolbox to find ways to “alter the outcome of online polls, find private Facebook photos, and send spoof emails that appeared to be from Blackberry users, among other things”.

When the Boss Hacks

Hot Mails

There is an unspoken underlying tension in the workplace on privacy matters relating to office telephones, computers, emails, documents, CCTV cameras, etc. Employers like to think they reserve the right to probe what they consider their property while employees believe their turf is clear from invasion.

This tension is nowhere better exemplified than by reports last Thursday that operatives with US tech giant Microsoft Inc. hacked into a blogger’s Hotmail account in the course of an investigation to try to identify an employee accused of stealing Microsoft trade secrets.

And it is not uncommon in my business to encounter client complaints about potential espionage and other alleged misconduct by their employees, leading to their consideration to search the (company-owned) computers, emails, phone records, etc.

Find out more from my latest column here and there.

The Growing Hacker Epidemic

Time for Standardized Data Breach Law

The latest hack on Bitcoin exchange Mt.Gox, leading to its sudden bankruptcy late February, and the spate of recent cyber-attacks have prompted warnings of a wave of serious cybercrimes ahead as hackers continue to breach the antiquated payment systems of companies like many top retailers.

Stock exchange regulators like the American SEC have rules for disclosures when company database were hacked but the general public is often at the mercy of private companies less inclined or compelled to raise red flags.

The private sector, policymakers and regulators have been slow to respond and address the increasing threats and sophistication of cybercriminals – only 11 percent of companies adopt industry-standard security measures, leaving our personal data highly vulnerable.

Time for a standardized data breach law?

Find out more from my latest column posted here and there.

Coping With Offline Snoops

Latest NSA Revelations Not the End of the World

The latest NSA revelations about their ability to penetrate into computers that are not even connected to the Internet may have caused deep concerns but there are at least 2 defensive measures one can undertake.

You can find out more from my latest column here.

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.

What Snowden Has Shown the World

The Year 2014 Equals 1 P.S.

Historians can be expected to mark June 9, 2013 as a significant date in the evolution of the surveillance and monitoring of mankind and peg 2013 alongside George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, making 2014 officially 1PS – one year Post Snowden.

There is justification for this chronological divide. The world will be working its way out of the events of last June for years and decades to come, trying to come to grips with the astonishing ability of electronic snoopers to surreptitiously monitor the details of millions of lives.

It appears that they will continue to be able to do so despite growing knowledge of the pervasive level of this surveillance.

Please find the full column here.

Security Lapse at the EU Summit

Security officials leave an easily tapped device in closed-door conferences of European leaders

In photos made public of several closed-door bilateral meetings between various European leaders last week, there were two common denominators. One was the presence of the French President Francois Hollande. The other was the VoIP phone on the desk. The question is: What is that phone doing there?

In the middle of a major brouhaha over charges that the US National Security Agency had allegedly monitored the phone conversations of foreign diplomats, the officials in those photos were speaking to each other in the presence of this easily-tapped device.

What these these photos highlight is a security lapse, thus generating many questions: What else have European countries missed and not done to better protect their leaders from American or any eavesdropping?

You can find the entire column here and there.

The Demise of the Cloud

NSA Snooping Compromises the Cloud Computing Industry

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg complained last week that trust in social networks and Internet companies has dived ever since cyber snooping and spying activities by the US National Security Agency began to make global headlines earlier this year.

It is no surprise. In fact, as fugitive former NSA operative Edward Snowden pointed out, the encryption system adopted by the International Organization for Standardization and its 163 member countries were actually written by the NSA, convincing proof that online platforms being used by Internet companies and the commercial world, including banks, could in fact be easily compromised by the NSA.

In other words, the NSA designed their own secret back door into the global encryption system for their convenience. So until the encryption system has been overhauled and taken away from NSA’s control, no server and no cloud service provider is secure enough to be entrusted with any confidential data.

So why then are blindly trusting companies still moving ever more data into the cloud and onto servers, where online access to highly confidential information related to clients, customers, employees, deals, business plans and performances, etc., is available to the US snoops?

You can find the entire column here.

Your Computer May Be Watching You

No Cheeze Please

If you have ever got the feeling someone was watching you while you were using your computer, tablet or smartphone, it could be because someone is. You may well be sitting there while someone, somewhere out there, is commanding your electronic device to transmit pictures of you and what you are doing.

You might assume that if you haven’t given electronic orders to the camera, it’s shut off. But this might send a chill down your back. The friendly folks at the US’s National Security Agency – the omnipresent spy agency dominating the news, and not in a good way – recently released a little two-page primer on tips to “harden” your computer against attacks.

If even the NSA doesn’t trust those Webcams, why should you?

Plus, there are reportedly now special spy apps designed for smartphones. You don’t have to be interested in them. You don’t have to buy and install these apps. More importantly, you don’t even need to know about them. Their very existence simply makes everyone highly vulnerable.

You can find the entire column here and there.

For Whom the Whistle Blows

That Whistle Could Have You Behind Bars

For Whom the Bell Tolls was a 1940 novel by Ernest Hemingway about an American in the International Brigades who blows up a bridge during the Spanish Civil War with death the ultimate sacrifice.

But what about For Whom The Whistle Blows? That informs the current debate about Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, two Americans who risked their lives by leaking documents on US foreign policy and covert cyber-snooping activities during the US war on terrorism. Are they prisoners – one in a US army stockade and the other in exile in Moscow – of conscience?

In contrast to the contemptuous labels and espionage charges the US government slapped on the two, one a US Army private first class and the other a former government intelligence contractor, both claimed their motive was to spark public debate and promote greater transparency in US government conduct. Whistle-blowers in general have all along been quite rightly championed and heralded by the authorities, media and the general public – at least by those whose oxen are not being gored from the revelations. Such are the dichotomies of modern history.

You can find the entire column here and there.

The Spying Game

Spies in the newsroom? Or spying on newsrooms? There’s far too much of both

(The Inside Story of the Bloomberg Spying Scandal – and Snooping on the Associated Press – and Some Remedies.)

I often get strange, tough questions from the clients of my business intelligence and commercial investigation firm, but the recent bombardments highlight a new trend: bloated or irrational paranoia, depending on your take.

Should I stop using emails? Would you recommend a personal VPN? Is it safer to discuss in person than over an electronic device?

Just last week, one client pondered whether he should be using the Bloomberg terminal and another questioned if his phone, video and Skype calls were safe. I can’t blame them. Just look at the headline news the past week alone…

Please read the full column here.

Big Brother, Big Pharma

The US tries to cut off a lifeline for low-cost pharmaceuticals

The issue of parallel trading seems to have reached the United States, where the US Justice Department has begun demanding that the two largest American couriers, FedEx and UPS, open and report on the contents in the sealed packages of their customers or face criminal charges.

At stake is the delivery of prescription medicines from online pharmacies to customers, according to a report last week by the online news portal WND. FedEx and UPS disclosed last November that they are targets of a federal criminal investigation related to their dealings with online pharmacies.

Please read full column here and there.

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.

Spy Game: Kids for Tricks

The First World’s Version of Child Soldiers?

It is estimated that 250,000 children are fighting in wars all over the world, recruited by force or lured by the false promise of an escape from poverty. They are living a life no child should ever lead.

But across the planet, another crop of children, living in affluence in Cupertino, California, or Knightsbridge in London, or Berlin are being recruited as child soldiers. They won’t bear arms. They won’t nudge from their posts – usually in their parents’ back bedrooms.

On Halloween, while their peers are wearing goblin costumes and going from door to door, their families might regard them as hiding in their bedrooms and staying away from trouble.

But so you thought. They may be in much bigger trouble than you could ever imagine – they could be on a Wanted List from intelligence agencies – for hire. But in their teen years, are they capable of making the moral decisions to take up spying, any more than a 12 year old peering over the sights of a Kalashnikov in Sierra Leone?

Read the full article here.

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… 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.

 

Shhh… Counting Spies

Interesting spy updates over the past few days.

Question: where do you think is the spy capital of the world?

Hint: Starts with letter B.

Did someone say Bei….?

Answer: Brussels.

Say what, Brussels?! Well, that’s according to Belgian intelligence chief Alain Winants, who added that spies usually pretend to be diplomats, journalists, lobbyists, businessmen or students (Read this – and please see my previous columns about spies pretending to be businessmen in China and students in US campus in Spy vs Spy and Espionage on Campus, respectively).

Now speaking of diplomats, the well known intelligence historian and collector of spy gadgets H. Keith Millon reportedly claimed “there are more spies at the United Nations than diplomats” (Read this).

The latter piece is not surprising but much depends on one’s definition of spy. But then again, given Million’s reputation in the intelligence trade…

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… Privileged Spies and Frequent Travelers

Airport security checks and immigration clearance must be a nightmare for spies, undercover agents and intelligence officials these days. 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 work, given the facial recognition checks on top of those fingerprint hassles that have become commonplace at immigration checkpoints across the globe…..

I will soon be posting my next column on this topic. Please visit again, thanks.

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).