2Reagan-Sign

Shhh… Mass Spying First Triggered By Executive Order 12333 Signed By Reagan

It was often widely believed the massive NSA snooping as revealed by the Snowden revelations was triggered by the aftermath of 9/11 during the Bush era but it now emerged that it’s the Executive Order 12333 issued and signed by then US President Ronald Reagan in 1981 that paved the leeway to intelligence agencies sweeping up vast quantities of Americans’ data.

This “twelve triple three”, as it’s known within the government circles, offers the underlying framework for the vast collection of metadata – including email contents, social network chats and messaging details to anything that surfs past the Internet on an incidental basis – even when Americans are not specifically targeted as it would be otherwise forbidden under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978

In a May 2014 interview with NBC, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden said that he specifically asked his colleagues at the NSA whether an executive order could override existing statutes. (They said it could not.) Snowden’s lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, said her client was specifically “referring to EO 12333”, according to a report by Ars Technica.

“President Ronald Reagan signed EO 12333 within his first year in office, 1981, largely as a response to the perceived weakening of the American intelligence apparatus by his two immediate predecessors, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Later, EO 12333 was amended three times by President George W. Bush between 2003 and 2008,” according to the report.

“Bush’s reasons for strengthening EO 12333 were similar. After the United States faced another existential threat in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Bush—and later President Barack Obama—used EO 12333 to expand American surveillance power.”

And the rest was history.

But let’s not forget Glenn Greenwald said in this recent book No Place To Hide that the personal motto of former NSA chief Keith Alexander was “Collect it all”. Period?

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2angry-twitter-bird

Shhh… US Govt Sponsored “Truthy” to Monitor Tweets for Political Hate Speech

As if the Snowden revelations on NSA snoops are not enough to amplify the Orwellian state in the US, it now emerged that the American federal government has once again stepped beyond what the US Constitution permits with their sponsored “Truthy” program, through a National Science Foundation grant to Indiana University, to create a Twitter-like “web service that will monitor ‘suspicious memes’ and what it considers to be ‘false and misleading ideas,’ with a major focus on political activity online,” according to a report by The Washington Free Beacon.

According to the report, Truthy is designed to collect and analyze tweets in real time using a combination of “data mining, social network analysis, and complex networks models,” all boosted by crowd sourcing with the objective to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution” that might harm the general public in political discussions online.

“For the federal government to be tracking so-called hate speech or subversive propaganda is not only Orwellian but violates the very fundamental rights to free speech and privacy guaranteed to us by the Constitution,” according to Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead in a WND report.

The WND has pointed out recently that the Justice Department would submit a report related to “hate crimes” and “hate speech” with actions recommended against any Internet sites, broadcast, cable television or radio shows determined to be advocating or encouraging “violent acts.”

It said “once the report is compiled, the bill calls for “any recommendations” for action “consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States” that is determined to be an “appropriate and necessary” way to address the purported encouragement of violent acts.”

ANGRY-TWITTER-BIRD

So now it seems one can be punished simply for what one thinks, feels and believes… Yes, Tweet that and be punished.

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ChinaOS

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?

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tor-project

Shhh… In TOR We (Can Still) Trust?

The BBC reported over the weekend that some NSA and GCHQ sleuths have been covertly tipping off developers of the Tor network as they were tasked to crack the code and find vulnerabilities in the cyber-tool most hated by the US and UK intelligence agencies, following a BBC interview with Andrew Lewman from the Tor Project.

“There are plenty of people in both organizations who can anonymously leak data to us to say – maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this,” he said. “And they have.”

The Tor network has been favored by those who sought internet privacy and animosity. The free software conceals the location and usage of its users from anyone conducting network surveillance and traffic analysis. In other words, Tor shields one’s identity: It is difficult if not impossible to trace the internet activity of any Tor users. No wonder Tor is championed by the military, political activists, law enforcements, whistleblowers and of course, Edward Snowden.

Unfortunately, given what Tor is, it is also known as the gateway to the “dark web” as criminals and terrorists love it as well.

So it was no surprise when the Snowden revelations revealed both the NSA and GCHQ have been trying to crack Tor.

In fact, the NSA hates Tor so much it was also reported that the agency was not only targeting and cracking the Tor network but it had been taking digital fingerprints of anyone who are even remotely interested in privacy – including fans of the Linux Journal web site and anyone visiting the homepage of the Tor-powered Linux operating system Tails.

Tails-DVD

So what motivated those NSA and GCHQ spies to secretly contact the Tor developers? Lewman had an explanation:

“It’s sort of funny because it also came out that GCHQ heavily relies on Tor working to be able to do a lot of their operations.
“So you can imagine one part of GCHQ is trying to break Tor, the other part is trying to make sure it’s not broken because they’re relying on it to do their work.

Find out more about using Tor from my earlier column.

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US1stPatent

Shhh… NSA Patents

Photo above: The first US patent granted to Samuel Hopkins on July 31, 1790 (Source: http://explorepahistory.com/displayimage.php?imgId=1-2-988 ).

The Foreign Policy magazine recently published an interesting piece on the number of patents the US National Security Agency has been granted by the American government since 1979.

These patents are behind the more than 270 spying devices, methods and designs used by the NSA’s “tens of thousands of cryptologists, mathematicians, and computer scientists who routinely come up with novel ways to protect — and steal — electronic data”, according to Foreign Policy.

NSApatents

Interestingly, as the chart above from the magazine shows, the NSA obtained 127 patents since 2005 – almost as many patents as it did in the previous 25 years – the year the former NSA director Keith Alexander came onboard.

Alexander retired from the NSA in March and announced last month he will seek as many as nine new patents for a computer security system he’s building at the private security firm he has co-founded, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc.

KeithAlexander

His announcement has raised eyebrows (like the photo above) and when asked whether he was cashing in on classified information he has learned at the NSA, Alexander said he didn’t develop the idea while working at the agency.

“If I retired from the Army as a brain surgeon, wouldn’t it be OK for me to go into private practice and make money doing brain surgery?” he said.

“I’m a cyber guy. Can’t I go to work and do cyber stuff?”

NSApatentsDB

Check out the Foreign Policy link to the list of NSA Patents.

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Five eye -2

Shhh… Beyond the NSA’s “Five Eyes”

The “Five Eyes” (FVEY) countries comprising of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are bound by a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence – they don’t spy on each other but instead share the intelligence they have collected.

But the US also share with a host of other “third parties” as revealed in the recent book “No Place to Hide” by Glenn Greenwald. See the list of these countries at 1:50 of this clip.

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portscanner-for-windows-7-matrix

Shhh… German Paper Reveals GCHQ’s Hacienda Program for Internet Colonization

The German news site Heise Online revealed late last week that British intelligence agency GCHQ has a “Hacienda” program to search for vulnerable systems across 27 countries that could be compromised by the British agency and its spy-counterparts in other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Hacienda

The GCHQ reportedly used port scanning, which hackers used to find systems they can potentially penetrate, as a “standard tool” against the entire nations it targeted.

“It should also be noted that the ability to port-scan an entire country is hardly wild fantasy; in 2013, a port scanner called Zmap was implemented that can scan the entire IPv4 address space in less than one hour using a single PC,” according to Heise.

“The list of targeted services includes ubiquitous public services such as HTTP and FTP, as well as common administrative protocols such as SSH (Secure SHell protocol – used for remote access to systems) and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol – used for network administration).”

Hacienda27countries

The same argument holds for those who still harbor the self-comforting thought of being “nobody”, “just an ordinary law-abiding citizen”, “small potato”, etc and thus not a surveillance target: it may not be you that they are interested but the people you “know”, “work with”, “chat with”, “befriend with”, “live with”, etc.

“Using this logic, every device is a target for colonization, as each successfully exploited target is theoretically useful as a means to infiltrating another possible target” and “Firewalls are unlikely to offer sufficient protection”, said the Heise report.

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Message+in+a+bottle

Shhh… New Secure NSA-Proof Chat & Messaging Solutions like Bleep and Tox

If you are looking for Skype-alternatives because you are concerned with reports of its security issues – given Skype’s alleged “background” problems and refusal to reveal its encryption method – then take comfort that there are a host of options available you’ll be spoiled with choices.

Most recently BitTorrent, best associated with making the peer-to-peer (P2P) software that allows users to download the same file from multiple sources simultaneously, has announced the launch of a pre-alpha version of its secure chat and voice-message service called BitTorrent Bleep.

Bleep

In order to counter mass surveillance and eavesdropping, Bleep enables users to make calls and send messages over the Internet without using any central server to direct traffic. What BitTorrent did was to apply the same P2P technology used for decentralized file sharing to Bleep so there is no way one could track and peep at the conversations. In essence, Bleep is a decentralized communication platform specifically designed to protect user metadata and anonymity.

And in short, every messages a user sent out is just a “Bleep” to the recipients. Sounds good? The only problem for now is that Bleep is currently limited to Windows 7 or 8 users, although there will be support for more operating systems later.

On the other hand, there is also TOX, a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS – ie. one can verify its code, unlike Skype) initiative and secure alternative to an all-in-one communication platform that guarantees full privacy and secure message delivery.

TOX

Tox takes pride in being a configuration-free P2P Skype replacement.

“Configuration-free means that the user will simply have to open the program and without any account configuration will be capable of adding people to his or her’s friends list and start conversing with them,” according to the TOX homepage.

And finally, here’s a list of ten other Skype alternatives to explore.

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2Snowden-Bolshoi

Shhh… NSA Missed Snowden’s Clues

The NSA had all along claimed Snowden stole 1.7 million files but Snowden told WIRED in an exclusive interview that there were apparently much more as the agency somehow missed his “digital bread crumbs“.

“I figured they would have a hard time,” Snowden said of his evidence trail. “I didn’t figure they would be completely incapable.”

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AllThePresident'sMen

Shhh… Obama’s CIA Watergate?

This year August 9 marked the day Richard Milhous Nixon resigned as the 37th US President back in 1974 and the Discovery channel aptly aired its documentary “All the President’s Men Revisited” that day to mark the 40th anniversary of the Watergate.

Redford-Hoffman

I watched the 1976 classic “All the President’s Men” countless times during my newsroom days as a commercial crimes investigative reporter – and eventually won the 2005 SOPA award for one of my exposé thanks to this inspiring and fascinating “violent” movie, as Robert Redford the narrator in the documentary put it.

And I can’t help wondering: does the movie have any relevance today?

Obviously President Barack Obama is not President Nixon. The former has not been impeached like the latter. But the recent CIA spying on the Senate is exactly the present day equivalent, with some cyber elements of course, of the Watergate break-in.

Professor Bruce Ackerman of Yale University is right when he wrote that Obama “is wrong to support the limited response of his CIA director, John Brennan, who is trying to defer serious action by simply creating an “accountability panel” to consider “potential disciplinary measures” or “systemic issues.””

CIA Director John Brennan apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month when he admitted his agency not only spied on computers used by its staffers but also read the emails of the Senate investigators involved in investigating the controversial post 9/11 CIA interrogation and detention program.

Senate committee members were certainly not impressed even though Obama continued to support Brennan as a “man of great integrity”.

With continued failure to live up to his promise of a more transparent government, Obama is increasingly tainting his leadership to put himself in the history books for all the wrong reasons – probably not as bad as Nixon but only time will tell.

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Shhh… CIA Style Manual? For Those Who Inspire to Write Like a Spy

It looks like the US intelligence agency takes writing very seriously – the picture below says it, “the security of our nation depends on it”.

CIAreport

Wonder if the CIA hired John le Carre to write this style guide and if the great spy novelist endorsed it if it was otherwise. Check out the 190-page manual here.

cat-writing

Oh btw you can tweet to the PR-savvy agency @CIA

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2USBbaby

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.

 

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Shhh… What’s this Google’s “Project Zero”?

Several reports have surfaced the last 24 hours about Google’s “Project Zero”, essentially the online search giant’s very own in-house super-geeks team of security researchers and hackers now devoted to finding security flaws in non-Google, third-party software “across the internet”, especially zero-day flaws (newly discovered bugs) – also known as “zero-day” vulnerabilities, those hackable bugs that are exploited by criminals, state-sponsored hackers and intelligence agencies.

Now the question is, is this a Google PR stunt? Read this and that articles and decide for yourself.

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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”.

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Shhh… Guide to Safer Computing

The (Globe & Mail) Paranoid Computer User’s Guide to Privacy, Security and Encryption

A nice reference and handy guide.

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Shhh… was Snowden Tricked?

Today is one year to the day Edward Snowden revealed himself to the world from a hotel in Hong Kong as the source of the NSA leaks.

How timely, there’s a report in the Daily Mail that former KGB agent Boris Karpichkov said the Russian spies agencies (now known as the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR))have identified Snowden as a potential defector “as far back as 2007″ and the Russian spies have ‘tricked’ him into asking Moscow for asylum by posing as diplomats.

“It was a trick and he fell for it. Now the Russians are extracting all the intelligence he possesses,” according to Karpichkov.

Would you believe it?

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Shhh… Microsoft, the NSA & You

End of Wins XP is No Dawn for Wins 8

Don’t be fooled into upgrading to Wins 8 after Microsoft recently ended support for the popular Wins XP OS. High time to switch to Linux instead – as I did 3 years ago.

Read this nicely written piece on those long held conspiracy theories about Microsoft and the NSA.

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Columnist, Writer, Sleuth – Vanson Soo