Category Archives: Cyber Espionage

Encryption-LowTech

Shhh… Obama & Cameron: Here’s How Low-Tech Encrypted Communications Work – With Just a Pen & Paper – Which You Can’t Decrypt

Here’s a video on how to send an encrypted message in a very simple and low-tech way: with a pen and paper.

Beauty of this primitive but effective method is you would have burnt the “keys” and the authorities won’t be able to punch it out of you, even with water-boarding tactics.

But the one potential challenge is the pad of “cypher keys” (see video below) has to be shared securely in advance and used once at best. Alternative: have several of these pads and find a secure way to convey which pad to use for reference.

Wonder what British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama – who were keen to push for a total ban on encryption despite warnings of irreversible damages – have to say about this. The message to them: it’s impossible to ban encrypted communications.

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Shhh… How to Register for Kim Dotcom’s End-to-End Encrypted Voice Calling Service “MegaChat”

If you’re amongst those wary of (eavesdropping with) Skype and Google Hangouts, this will be great news.

New Zealand-based internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, best known for his legendary Megaupload and Mega file sharing services, announced last week the launch of his new and highly anticipated encrypted communication software MegaChat for video calling, messaging and chat. Dubbed a “Skype Killer”, the New Zealand-based service is available in both free and paid version – see video below.

And this is going to be interesting. The Snowden revelations have revealed how Microsoft, which bought Skype, has handed the NSA access to encrypted messages.

Earlier this month, following the Paris attacks, British Prime Minister announced his push to ban encryption altogether and US President Barack Obama has openly voiced support despite warnings of irreversible damages.

Meantime, Kim Dotcom said encrypted video conferencing, email and text chat would also be available later. In any case, here’s a video on how to register and start using MegaChat.

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Shhh… China’s Block to VPN Services Has Global Impacts

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

News has surfaced over the weekend 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.

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 the designated pipe, which effectively shield internet traffic from government filters that have set criteria on what sites can be accessed.

Find out more about this news below – 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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shhh… Blackberry to Cameron & Obama: Encryption Ban a Gift to Hackers & Cyber-Criminals

Blackberry’s CEO John Chen in his latest blog post “Encryption Needn’t Be An Either/Or Choice Between Privacy and National Security” responded to the recent push by British Prime Minister David Cameron – endorsed by US President Barack Obama last week – to ban encrypted communications in the name of national security:

Encryption Needn’t Be An Either/Or Choice Between Privacy and National Security

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks earlier this month, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron proposed banning encrypted communications services such as those offered by Apple, Facebook and others. President Obama partially endorsed Prime Minister Cameron’s proposal a few days later, indicating he would support banning encrypted communications services that cannot be intercepted by law enforcement and national security agencies. While there is no publicly-available evidence that encrypted communications played any role in the Paris attacks, security officials say their ability to prevent future attacks will be hindered if terrorists are able to evade surveillance using encrypted communications and messaging services.

Privacy advocates have harshly criticized the Cameron-Obama proposals, arguing that encryption is a vital tool for protecting sensitive government, corporate and personal data from hacking and other forms of cyber theft. Following the recent spate of hacking attacks against Sony, Target, Home Depot, certain celebrity users of popular but hackable smartphones, and others, these advocates argue we need more, not less encryption. Further, they argue that banning encryption will not necessarily make it easier for security agencies to surveil terror plotters; after all, the terrorists will know they are being overheard and will simply communicate in new and ever-changing forms of coded language.

Reconciling these opposing perspectives on encryption requires a reasoned approach that balances legitimate national security concerns with legitimate cyber security concerns.

Privacy is Everyone’s Concern

Our dependence on computing devices for transmitting and storing sensitive personal information has become irreversible. Billions of items of personal information including health records, bank account records, social security numbers and private photographs reside on millions of computers and in the cloud. This information is transmitted via the internet every day. The same is true for highly confidential and proprietary business information. And of course no government or law enforcement agency could function without maintaining high levels of information security.

With so much information residing on computer networks and flowing through the internet, cyber security has emerged as one of society’s uppermost concerns. Protecting private and sensitive information from hacking, intrusion and exfiltration now commands the attention not just of computer professionals, but also heads of state, CEOs, Boards of Directors, small business owners, and every individual using a computer or smartphone, and even those who never use a computing device.

Modern forms of encrypting voice and data traffic provide the best protection for highly valuable and private personal, business and government information. Rendering data unreadable to the intruder greatly diminishes the incentive to hack or steal. Banning encryption, therefore, would dramatically increase the exposure of all such information to hacking and cyber theft. Clearly that is not a viable option.

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On the other hand, the same encryption technology that enables protection of sensitive data can also be abused by criminals and terrorists to evade legitimate government efforts to track their data and communications. Companies offering encrypted communications thus have a duty to comply with lawful requests to provide information to security agencies monitoring would-be terrorists. Companies like BlackBerry: We’ve supported FIPS 140-2 validated encryption in all of our devices for the past 10 years – longer than many of our competitors have been selling smartphones.

Depending on the particular technology involved, that information requested by law enforcement agencies might include the content of encrypted messages, but it may include other vital data such as user information, the dates and times the subscriber contacted other users, the length of such communications, the location of the user, and so forth. In many instances non-content user information can be even more important than the actual content itself, because such metadata can provide crucial leads and other vital intelligence to law enforcement and security agencies.

Let’s be clear: I am not advocating sharing data with governments for their ongoing data collection programs without a court order, subpoena or other lawful request. However, telecommunications companies, Internet Service Providers, and other players in the modern communications and messaging ecosystem need to take seriously their responsibility to comply and to facilitate compliance with reasonable and lawful requests for such information. Unfortunately, not all players in the industry view this issue the same way. Some Silicon Valley companies have publicly opposed government efforts to enable lawful surveillance and data gathering, even where lives may hang in the balance. These companies appear to be trying to position themselves as staunchly “pro-privacy,” without according sufficient weight to legitimate and reasonable governmental efforts to monitor and track would-be terrorists. Far from protecting privacy rights, this irresponsible approach risks providing ever stronger arguments to those who would subjugate all cyber privacy concerns to national security.

The answer, therefore, is not to ban encryption, because doing so would give hackers and cyber-criminals a windfall, making it much easier for them to mine billions of items of sensitive personal, business and government data. Instead, telecommunications and internet companies should cooperate with the reasonable and lawful efforts of governments to fight terrorism. That way we can help protect both privacy and lives.

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Shhh… Obama to Support Cameron on Encryption Ban – Knowingly Betray Our Privacy and Security

US President Obama has openly voiced support to British Prime Minister’s idea about banning encryption but as The Guardian report (below) last week on a secret US cybersecurity document in 2009 showed, they are very well aware their decision would leave the entire world highly vulnerable to cyber attacks at the expense of their interest in national security and terrorism matters.


Secret US cybersecurity report: encryption vital to protect private data


Newly uncovered Snowden document contrasts with British PM’s vow to crack down on encrypted messaging after Paris attacks

A secret US cybersecurity report warned that government and private computers were being left vulnerable to online attacks from Russia, China and criminal gangs because encryption technologies were not being implemented fast enough.

The advice, in a newly uncovered five-year forecast written in 2009, contrasts with the pledge made by David Cameron this week to crack down on encryption use by technology companies.

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, the prime minister said there should be no “safe spaces for terrorists to communicate” or that British authorites could not access.

Cameron, who landed in the US on Thursday night, is expected to urge Barack Obama to apply more pressure to tech giants, such as Apple, Google and Facebook, which have been expanding encrypted messaging for their millions of users since the revelations of mass NSA surveillance by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Cameron said the companies “need to work with us. They need also to demonstrate, which they do, that they have a social responsibility to fight the battle against terrorism. We shouldn’t allow safe spaces for terrorists to communicate. That’s a huge challenge but that’s certainly the right principle”.

But the document from the US National Intelligence Council, which reports directly to the US director of national intelligence, made clear that encryption was the “best defence” for computer users to protect private data.

Part of the cache given to the Guardian by Snowden was published in 2009 and gives a five-year forecast on the “global cyber threat to the US information infrastructure”. It covers communications, commercial and financial networks, and government and critical infrastructure systems. It was shared with GCHQ and made available to the agency’s staff through its intranet.

One of the biggest issues in protecting businesses and citizens from espionage, sabotage and crime – hacking attacks are estimated to cost the global economy up to $400bn a year – was a clear imbalance between the development of offensive versus defensive capabilities, “due to the slower than expected adoption … of encryption and other technologies”, it said.

An unclassified table accompanying the report states that encryption is the “[b]est defense to protect data”, especially if made particularly strong through “multi-factor authentication” – similar to two-step verification used by Google and others for email – or biometrics. These measures remain all but impossible to crack, even for GCHQ and the NSA.

The report warned: “Almost all current and potential adversaries – nations, criminal groups, terrorists, and individual hackers – now have the capability to exploit, and in some cases attack, unclassified access-controlled US and allied information systems.”

It further noted that the “scale of detected compromises indicates organisations should assume that any controlled but unclassified networks of intelligence, operational or commercial value directly accessible from the internet are already potentially compromised by foreign adversaries”.

The primary adversaries included Russia, whose “robust” operations teams had “proven access and tradecraft”, it said. By 2009, China was “the most active foreign sponsor of computer network intrusion activity discovered against US networks”, but lacked the sophistication or range of capabilities of Russia. “Cyber criminals” were another of the major threats, having “capabilities significantly beyond those of all but a few nation states”.

The report had some cause for optimism, especially in the light of Google and other US tech giants having in the months prior greatly increased their use of encryption efforts. “We assess with high confidence that security best practices applied to target networks would prevent the vast majority of intrusions,” it concluded.

Official UK government security advice still recommends encryption among a range of other tools for effective network and information defence. However, end-to-end encryption – which means only the two people communicating with each other, and not the company carrying the message, can decode it – is problematic for intelligence agencies as it makes even warranted collection much more difficult.

The latest versions of Apple and Google’s mobile operating systems are encrypted by default, while other popular messaging services, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, also use encryption. This has prompted calls for action against such strong encryption from ministers and officials. Speaking on Monday, Cameron asked: “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read?”

The previous week, a day after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, the MI5 chief, Andrew Parker, called for new powers and warned that new technologies were making it harder to track extremists.

In November, the head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan, said US social media giants had become the “networks of choice” for terrorists. Chris Soghoian, principal senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, said attempts by the British government to force US companies to weaken encryption faced many hurdles.

“The trouble is these services are already being used by hundreds of millions of people. I guess you could try to force tech companies to be less secure but then they would be less secure against attacks for anyone,” he said.

GCHQ and the NSA are responsible for cybersecurity in the UK and US respectively. This includes working with technology companies to audit software and hardware for use by governments and critical infrastructure sectors.

Such audits uncover numerous vulnerabilities which are then shared privately with technology companies to fix issues that could otherwise have caused serious damage to users and networks. However, both agencies also have intelligence-gathering responsibilities under which they exploit vulnerabilities in technology to monitor targets. As a result of these dual missions, they are faced with weighing up whether to exploit or fix a vulnerability when a product is used both by targets and innocent users.

The Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica have previously reported the intelligence agencies’ broad efforts to undermine encryption and exploit rather than reveal vulnerabilities. This prompted Obama’s NSA review panel to warn that the agency’s conflicting missions caused problems, and so recommend that its cyber-security responsibilities be removed to prevent future issues.

Another newly discovered document shows GCHQ acting in a similarly conflicted manner, despite the agencies’ private acknowledgement that encryption is an essential part of protecting citizens against cyber-attacks.

The 2008 memo was addressed to the then foreign secretary, David Miliband, and classified with one of the UK’s very highest restrictive markings: “TOP SECRET STRAP 2 EYES ONLY”. It is unclear why such a document was posted to the agency’s intranet, which is available to all agency staff, NSA workers, and even outside contractors.

The memo requested a renewal of the legal warrant allowing GCHQ to “modify” commercial software in violation of licensing agreements. The document cites examples of software the agency had hacked, including commonly used software to run web forums, and website administration tools. Such software are widely used by companies and individuals around the world.

The document also said the agency had developed “capability against Cisco routers”, which would “allow us to re-route selected traffic across international links towards GCHQ’s passive collection systems”.

GCHQ had also been working to “exploit” the anti-virus software Kaspersky, the document said. The report contained no information on the nature of the vulnerabilities found by the agency.

Security experts regularly say that keeping software up to date and being aware of vulnerabilities is vital for businesses to protect themselves and their customers from being hacked. Failing to fix vulnerabilities leaves open the risk that other governments or criminal hackers will find the same security gaps and exploit them to damage systems or steal data, raising questions about whether GCHQ and the NSA neglected their duty to protect internet systems in their quest for more intelligence.

A GCHQ spokesman said: “It is long-standing policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the secretary of state, the interception and intelligence services commissioners and the parliamentary intelligence and security committee.“All our operational processes rigorously support this position. In addition, the UK’s interception regime is entirely compatible with the European convention on human rights.”

Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, a lobby group that represents Facebook, Google, Reddit, Twitter, Yahoo and other tech companies, said: “Just as governments have a duty to protect to the public from threats, internet services have a duty to our users to ensure the security and privacy of their data. That’s why internet services have been increasing encryption security.”

MarkCuban

Shhh… Mark Cuban on Social Media Mistakes and Self-Destruct Messaging Apps Cyber Dust

Rather than hearing from the geeks, it may be refreshing to listen the same from Mark Cuban, Shark Tank host and owner of NBA team Dallas Mavericks:

BND

Shhh… List of 3,500 Spy Names sold by German Double Agent

The double agent is reportedly known as Markus R., a 32-year-old employee of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) who allegedly passed the list to a CIA contact.

Cameron

Shhh… Paris Attacks: Dangerous Precedence & Irreversible Damages with Cameron’s Pursuit of “Safe Spaces” & Ban on Encrypted Online Messaging Apps

In the aftermath of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks, it came as no surprise politicians were quick to up the antenna (again) on surveillance and stifle the right to privacy – whilst, in the same breath, they drape themselves publicly in Paris to embrace free speech and press freedom.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, for example, stole the headlines this week saying that, if re-elected in May, he would ban encrypted online messaging apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat if the British intelligence agencies were not given backdoors to access the communications.

“We must not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other,” said Cameron as he spoke about a “comprehensive piece of legislation” to close the “safe spaces” used by suspected terrorists – and also planned to encourage US President Barack Obama (who should be reminded that he has promised to pursue NSA reforms) to make internet companies like Facebook and Twitter cooperate with British intelligence agencies to track the online activities of Islamist extremists.

Backdoors are by and large security holes and what Cameron is proposing would set a dangerous precedence with irreversible consequences far beyond the loss of free speech – this is best summed up in the following open letter to David Cameron (below – and here):

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CentcomHack

Shhh… CENTCOM Hack More Than Just Twitter Feed & YouTube Channel

The CENTCOM hack was much more damaging than what the Pentagon has openly admitted (Pentagon spokesman said it was “little more than a prank or vandalism”):

ShadowPeople-thespecialhead

Shhh… Online Privacy: How to Track & Manage Our Digital Shadow

Photo (above) credit: http://thespecialhead.deviantart.com/art/Shadow-people-304525517

I found this excellent MyShadow website which not only explains what digital shadows mean but also provides a useful tool to check what traces one leaves online – by specifying the hardware and software one uses – and best of all, explores ways to mitigate them.

Have fun cleaning up your digital footprints.

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Shhh… Facial Recognition & Risks: FBI to Photograph All Americans

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Following up on an earlier post on the same topic:

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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.

FacialRecogn

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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FortuneCookie

Shhh… Get a New Home Router – 12 Millions Vulnerable to “Misfortune Cookie” Hacks

Here’s one for the (urgent) To Do List, as the following article (below) from threatpost.com explains…

12 Million Home Routers Vulnerable to Takeover

by Michael Mimoso December 18, 2014 , 12:23 pm

More than 12 million devices running an embedded webserver called RomPager are vulnerable to a simple attack that could give a hacker man-in-the-middle position on traffic going to and from home routers from just about every leading manufacturer.

Mostly ISP-owned residential gateways manufactured by D-Link, Huawei, TP-Link, ZTE, Zyxel and several others are currently exposed. Researchers at Check Point Software Technologies reported the flaw they’ve called Misfortune Cookie, to all of the affected vendors and manufacturers, and most have responded that they will push new firmware and patches in short order.

The problem with embedded device security is that, with consumer-owned gear especially, it’s up to the device owner to find and flash new firmware, leaving most of the devices in question vulnerable indefinitely.

In the case of the RomPager vulnerability, an attacker need only send a single packet containing a malicious HTTP cookie to exploit the flaw. Such an exploit would corrupt memory on the device and allow an attacker to remotely gain administrative access to the device.

“We hope this is a game-changing wake-up call,” said Shahar Tal, malware and vulnerability research manager with Check Point. “Certainly in terms of numbers, I don’t remember a vulnerability released that had 12 million endpoints online since maybe Conficker in 2008. This is really, really bad and the incredibly slow update propagation chain makes it worse.”

Tal said the vulnerable code was written in 2002 and given to chipset makers bundled in a software development kit (SDK). This SDK was given to manufacturers who used it when building their respective firmware; ISPs, Tal said, also used the same SDK to prepare custom firmware used in consumer residential devices.

“The vulnerable code is from 2002 and was actually fixed in 2005 [by AllegroSoft, makers of RomPager] and yet still did not make it into consumer devices,” Tal said. “It’s present in device firmware manufactured in 2014 that we downloaded last month. This is an industry problem; something is wrong.”

Tal said Check Point conducted Internet scans that show the 12 million devices exposed online in 189 countries. In some of those countries, Tal said, vulnerability rates hover around 10 percent, and in one country half of its Internet users are at risk.

“Even when people become aware of this, I don’t expect updated firmware to be deployed in 189 countries,” Tal said. “This will be with us for months and years to come.”

That means that vulnerable home routers are at risk to remote attacks that put not only Internet traffic at risk, but also other devices on a local network such as printers.

“The implications of these risks mean more than just a privacy violation – they also set the stage for further attacks, such as installing malware on devices and making permanent configuration changes,” Check Point wrote in an analysis published today. “This WAN-to-LAN free-crossing is also bypassing any firewall or isolation functionality previously provided by your gateway and breaks common threat models. For example, an attacker can try to access your home webcam (potentially using default credentials) or extract data from your business NAS backup drive.”

Tal said Check Point is not aware of any exploits of this issue, but assumes that researchers and black hats will soon begin pinging Shodan and doing Google searches looking for vulnerable devices.

“This is very easy to exploit once you figure out the program internals,” Tal said. “We are assuming that some researchers will do that in upcoming days and we hope vendors react as fast as possible to get consumers protected.”

Some vendors, which Tal would not name, have already shared beta versions of upgraded firmware with Check Point, and Check Point has confirmed the issue as patched in those cases.

“Everyone is aware that embedded devices are insecure, but we haven’t had one game-changing event that crosses boundaries and makes the industry understand this,” Tal said. “This one is definitely worth the attention and needs fixing.”

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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:

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The identifiers of these 10 individuals are:

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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.

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Airport

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.

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Shhh… A Feasible Strategy Despite Severe Innate Phone Security (Eavesdropping) Flaws Like SS7

The Washington Post article below once again highlights one approach to mobile phone usage: have many spares, apart from your regular smartphone(s), like good old cellulars and disposable low-value SIM cards. Dispose the SIM card after each use and always switch amongst those cellulars.

It can’t stop eavesdropping but at least the hackers and spies cannot trace you so easily. The approach may sound extreme to most people, so for all practical reasons, it’s best recommended only for those important and confidential conversations.

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German researchers discover a flaw that could let anyone listen to your cell calls.
By Craig Timberg December 18

German researchers have discovered security flaws that could let hackers, spies and criminals listen to private phone calls and intercept text messages on a potentially massive scale – even when cellular networks are using the most advanced encryption now available.

The flaws, to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, are the latest evidence of widespread insecurity on SS7, the global network that allows the world’s cellular carriers to route calls, texts and other services to each other. Experts say it’s increasingly clear that SS7, first designed in the 1980s, is riddled with serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.

The flaws discovered by the German researchers are actually functions built into SS7 for other purposes – such as keeping calls connected as users speed down highways, switching from cell tower to cell tower – that hackers can repurpose for surveillance because of the lax security on the network.

Those skilled at the myriad functions built into SS7 can locate callers anywhere in the world, listen to calls as they happen or record hundreds of encrypted calls and texts at a time for later decryption. There also is potential to defraud users and cellular carriers by using SS7 functions, the researchers say.

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers harden their systems, they still must communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network. That means that a single carrier in Congo or Kazakhstan, for example, could be used to hack into cellular networks in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.

“It’s like you secure the front door of the house, but the back door is wide open,” said Tobias Engel, one of the German researchers.

Engel, founder of Sternraute, and Karsten Nohl, chief scientist for Security Research Labs, separately discovered these security weaknesses as they studied SS7 networks in recent months, after The Washington Post reported the widespread marketing of surveillance systems that use SS7 networks to locate callers anywhere in the world. The Post reported that dozens of nations had bought such systems to track surveillance targets and that skilled hackers or criminals could do the same using functions built into SS7. (The term is short for Signaling System 7 and replaced previous networks called SS6, SS5, etc.)

The researchers did not find evidence that their latest discoveries, which allow for the interception of calls and texts, have been marketed to governments on a widespread basis. But vulnerabilities publicly reported by security researchers often turn out to be tools long used by secretive intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency or Britain’s GCHQ, but not revealed to the public.

“Many of the big intelligence agencies probably have teams that do nothing but SS7 research and exploitation,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the ACLU and an expert on surveillance technology. “They’ve likely sat on these things and quietly exploited them.”

The GSMA, a global cellular industry group based in London, did not respond to queries seeking comment about the vulnerabilities that Nohl and Engel have found. For the Post’s article in August on location tracking systems that use SS7, GSMA officials acknowledged problems with the network and said it was due to be replaced over the next decade because of a growing list of security and technical issues.

The German researchers found two distinct ways to eavesdrop on calls using SS7 technology. In the first, commands sent over SS7 could be used to hijack a cell phone’s “forwarding” function — a service offered by many carriers. Hackers would redirect calls to themselves, for listening or recording, and then onward to the intended recipient of a call. Once that system was in place, the hackers could eavesdrop on all incoming and outgoing calls indefinitely, from anywhere in the world.

The second technique requires physical proximity but could be deployed on a much wider scale. Hackers would use radio antennas to collect all the calls and texts passing through the airwaves in an area. For calls or texts transmitted using strong encryption, such as is commonly used for advanced 3G connections, hackers could request through SS7 that each caller’s carrier release a temporary encryption key to unlock the communication after it has been recorded.

Nohl on Wednesday demonstrated the ability to collect and decrypt a text message using the phone of a German senator, who cooperated in the experiment. But Nohl said the process could be automated to allow massive decryption of calls and texts collected across an entire city or a large section of a country, using multiple antennas.

“It’s all automated, at the push of a button,” Nohl said. “It would strike me as a perfect spying capability, to record and decrypt pretty much any network… Any network we have tested, it works.”

Those tests have included more than 20 networks worldwide, including T-Mobile in the United States. The other major U.S. carriers have not been tested, though Nohl and Engel said it’s likely at least some of them have similar vulnerabilities. (Several smartphone-based text messaging systems, such as Apple’s iMessage and Whatsapp, use end-to-end encryption methods that sidestep traditional cellular text systems and likely would defeat the technique described by Nohl and Engel.)

In a statement, T-Mobile said: “T-Mobile remains vigilant in our work with other mobile operators, vendors and standards bodies to promote measures that can detect and prevent these attacks.”

The issue of cell phone interception is particularly sensitive in Germany because of news reports last year, based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that a phone belonging to Chancellor Angela Merkel was the subject of NSA surveillance. The techniques of that surveillance have not become public, though Nohl said that the SS7 hacking method that he and Engel discovered is one of several possibilities.

U.S. embassies and consulates in dozens of foreign cities, including Berlin, are outfitted with antennas for collecting cellular signals, according to reports by German magazine Der Spiegel, based on documents released by Snowden. Many cell phone conversations worldwide happen with either no encryption or weak encryption.

The move to 3G networks offers far better encryption and the prospect of private communications, but the hacking techniques revealed by Nohl and Engel undermine that possibility. Carriers can potentially guard their networks against efforts by hackers to collect encryption keys, but it’s unclear how many have done so. One network that operates in Germany, Vodafone, recently began blocking such requests after Nohl reported the problem to the company two weeks ago.

Nohl and Engel also have discovered new ways to track the locations of cell phone users through SS7. The Post story, in August, reported that several companies were offering governments worldwide the ability to find virtually any cell phone user, virtually anywhere in the world, by learning the location of their cell phones through an SS7 function called an “Any Time Interrogation” query.

Some carriers block such requests, and several began doing so after the Post’s report. But the researchers in recent months have found several other techniques that hackers could use to find the locations of callers by using different SS7 queries. All networks must track their customers in order to route calls to the nearest cellular towers, but they are not required to share that information with other networks or foreign governments.

Carriers everywhere must turn over location information and allow eavesdropping of calls when ordered to by government officials in whatever country they are operating in. But the techniques discovered by Nohl and Engel offer the possibility of much broader collection of caller locations and conversations, by anyone with access to SS7 and the required technical skills to send the appropriate queries.

“I doubt we are the first ones in the world who realize how open the SS7 network is,” Engel said.

Secretly eavesdropping on calls and texts would violate laws in many countries, including the United States, except when done with explicit court or other government authorization. Such restrictions likely do little to deter criminals or foreign spies, say surveillance experts, who say that embassies based in Washington likely collect cellular signals.

The researchers also found that it was possible to use SS7 to learn the phone numbers of people whose cellular signals are collected using surveillance devices. The calls transmit a temporary identification number which, by sending SS7 queries, can lead to the discovery of the phone number. That allows location tracking within a certain area, such as near government buildings.

The German senator who cooperated in Nohl’s demonstration of the technology, Thomas Jarzombek of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, said that while many in that nation have been deeply angered by revelations about NSA spying, few are surprised that such intrusions are possible.

“After all the NSA and Snowden things we’ve heard, I guess nobody believes it’s possible to have a truly private conversation on a mobile phone,” he said. “When I really need a confidential conversation, I use a fixed-line” phone.

Fingerprint-electronicInvestigation

Are You Unique – How to Check Your Browser Fingerprints & Online Privacy?

Think you have taken all measures to remain anonymous and untraceable online? Or are you still (unknowingly) leaving browser fingerprints that can be traced to you and your devices?

The good news is, there’s a way to check and confirm if you are unique in cyberspace.

A browser fingerprint, or device fingerprint, is the systematic collection of information about a remote device for identification purposes, even when cookies are turned off.

There’s a web site “Am I Unique” which you can visit and check by clicking “View my browser fingerprint” as shown below:

Fingerprinting-Browser

That should give much food for thoughts for the Christmas holidays?

According to a recent international survey on 23,376 Internet users in 24 countries, carried out between October 7, 2014 and November 12, 2014, which found some 64 percent confessed they’re more concerned today about online privacy than they were a year ago.

Privacy-survey

That’s one way to gauge the post-Snowden effects. And if you still wonder why privacy matters, I highly recommend the Glenn Greenwald’s TEDTalk on “Why Privacy Matters“.

Surveillance-Homes

Shhh… US Federal Court: Warrantless Surveillance Footage in Public Areas is an Invasion of Privacy

Guess one would easily assume privacy does not apply in public areas – just look at the proliferation of CCTV cameras in the streets.

Well, that’s probably not necessarily the case judging by one recent court ruling in Washington. It may be good news for the general public and bad news for law enforcement.

Now first, many would probably associate the following 2 photos with typical covert surveillance operations, whereby operatives waited patiently to snap photos (and video) evidence of their subjects.

Surveillance-Detectives

Surveillance-Detectives2

But in this case involving the Washington police and Leonel Vargas (an “undocumented” immigrant suspected of drug trafficking), the authorities had a better idea.

The police planted a video camera, without a warrant, on a nearby utility pole 100 yards from Vargas’ rural Washington state house and shot 6 weeks worth of footage of his front yard whereby they eventually captured convincing evidence.

Vargas challenged the case on the grounds of violation of his privacy, which the government argued was not valid as his front yard is a public space and thus privacy does not apply.

The evidence put forward by the authorities was subsequently thrown out of the court by US District Judge Edward Shea, whose ruling is well summed up as such:

Law enforcement’s warrantless and constant covert video surveillance of Defendant’s rural front yard is contrary to the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy and violates Defendant’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search. The video evidence and fruit of the video evidence are suppressed.

Find out more about this case from here and there.

FBI-SilkRoad

Shhh… The FBI Unmasking of TOR Users with Metasploit

I like to share this WIRED updates on the use of TOR.

The FBI Used the Web’s Favorite Hacking Tool to Unmask Tor Users
By Kevin Poulsen 12.16.14 | 7:00 am

For more than a decade, a powerful app called Metasploit has been the most important tool in the hacking world: An open-source Swiss Army knife of hacks that puts the latest exploits in the hands of anyone who’s interested, from random criminals to the thousands of security professionals who rely on the app to scour client networks for holes.

Now Metasploit has a new and surprising fan: the FBI. WIRED has learned that FBI agents relied on Flash code from an abandoned Metasploit side project called the “Decloaking Engine” to stage its first known effort to successfully identify a multitude of suspects hiding behind the Tor anonymity network.

That attack, “Operation Torpedo,” was a 2012 sting operation targeting users of three Dark Net child porn sites. Now an attorney for one of the defendants ensnared by the code is challenging the reliability of the hackerware, arguing it may not meet Supreme Court standards for the admission of scientific evidence. “The judge decided that I would be entitled to retain an expert,” says Omaha defense attorney Joseph Gross. “That’s where I am on this—getting a programming expert involved to examine what the government has characterized as a Flash application attack of the Tor network.”

A hearing on the matter is set for February 23.

Tor, a free, open-source project originally funded by the US Navy, is sophisticated anonymity software that protects users by routing traffic through a labyrinthine delta of encrypted connections. Like any encryption or privacy system, Tor is popular with criminals. But it also is used by human rights workers, activists, journalists and whistleblowers worldwide. Indeed, much of the funding for Tor comes from grants issued by federal agencies like the State Department that have a vested interest in supporting safe, anonymous speech for dissidents living under oppressive regimes.

With so many legitimate users depending upon the system, any successful attack on Tor raises alarm and prompts questions, even when the attacker is a law enforcement agency operating under a court order. Did the FBI develop its own attack code, or outsource it to a contractor? Was the NSA involved? Were any innocent users ensnared?

Now, some of those questions have been answered: Metasploit’s role in Operation Torpedo reveals the FBI’s Tor-busting efforts as somewhat improvisational, at least at first, using open-source code available to anyone.

Created in 2003 by white hat hacker HD Moore, Metasploit is best known as a sophisticated open-source penetration testing tool that lets users assemble and deliver an attack from component parts—identify a target, pick an exploit, add a payload and let it fly. Supported by a vast community of contributors and researchers, Metasploit established a kind of lingua franca for attack code. When a new vulnerability emerges, like April’s Heartbleed bug, a Metasploit module to exploit it is usually not far behind.

Moore believes in transparency—or “full disclosure”—when it comes to security holes and fixes, and he’s applied that ethic in other projects under the Metasploit banner, like the Month of Browser Bugs, which demonstrated 30 browser security holes in as many days, and Critical.IO, Moore’s systematic scan of the entire Internet for vulnerable hosts. That project earned Moore a warning from law enforcement officials, who cautioned that he might be running afoul of federal computer crime law.

In 2006, Moore launched the “Metasploit Decloaking Engine,” a proof-of-concept that compiled five tricks for breaking through anonymization systems. If your Tor install was buttoned down, the site would fail to identify you. But if you’d made a mistake, your IP would appear on the screen, proving you weren’t as anonymous as you thought. “That was the whole point of Decloak,” says Moore, who is chief research officer at Austin-based Rapid7. “I had been aware of these techniques for years, but they weren’t widely known to others.”

One of those tricks was a lean 35-line Flash application. It worked because Adobe’s Flash plug-in can be used to initiate a direct connection over the Internet, bypassing Tor and giving away the user’s true IP address. It was a known issue even in 2006, and the Tor Project cautions users not to install Flash.

The decloaking demonstration eventually was rendered obsolete by a nearly idiot-proof version of the Tor client called the Tor Browser Bundle, which made security blunders more difficult. By 2011, Moore says virtually everyone visiting the Metasploit decloaking site was passing the anonymity test, so he retired the service. But when the bureau obtained its Operation Torpedo warrants the following year, it chose Moore’s Flash code as its “network investigative technique”—the FBI’s lingo for a court-approved spyware deployment.

Torpedo unfolded when the FBI seized control of a trio of Dark Net child porn sites based in Nebraska. Armed with a special search warrant crafted by Justice Department lawyers in Washington DC, the FBI used the sites to deliver the Flash application to visitors’ browsers, tricking some of them into identifying their real IP address to an FBI server. The operation identified 25 users in the US and an unknown number abroad.

Gross learned from prosecutors that the FBI used the Decloaking Engine for the attack — they even provided a link to the code on Archive.org. Compared to other FBI spyware deployments, the Decloaking Engine was pretty mild. In other cases, the FBI has, with court approval, used malware to covertly access a target’s files, location, web history and webcam. But Operation Torpedo is notable in one way. It’s the first time—that we know of—that the FBI deployed such code broadly against every visitor to a website, instead of targeting a particular suspect.

The tactic is a direct response to the growing popularity of Tor, and in particular an explosion in so-called “hidden services”—special websites, with addresses ending in .onion, that can be reached only over the Tor network.

Hidden services are a mainstay of the nefarious activities carried out on the so-called Dark Net, the home of drug markets, child porn, and other criminal activity. But they’re also used by organizations that want to evade surveillance or censorship for legitimate reasons, like human rights groups, journalists, and, as of October, even Facebook.

A big problem with hidden service, from a law enforcement perceptive, is that when the feds track down and seize the servers, they find that the web server logs are useless to them. With a conventional crime site, those logs typically provide a handy list of Internet IP addresses for everyone using the site – quickly leveraging one bust into a cascade of dozens, or even hundreds. But over Tor, every incoming connection traces back only as far as the nearest Tor node—a dead end.

Thus, the mass spyware deployment of Operation Torpedo. The Judicial Conference of the United States is currently considering a Justice Department petition to explicitly permit spyware deployments, based in part on the legal framework established by Operation Torpedo. Critics of the petition argue the Justice Department must explain in greater detail how its using spyware, allowing a public debate over the capability.

“One thing that’s frustrating for me right now, is it’s impossible to get DOJ to talk about this capability,” says Chris Soghoian, principal technologist at the ACLU. “People in government are going out of their way to keep this out of the discussion.”

For his part, Moore has no objection to the government using every available tool to bust pedophiles–he once publicly proposed a similar tactic himself. But he never expected his long-dead experiment to drag him into a federal case. Last month he started receiving inquiries from Gross’ technical expert, who had questions about the efficacy of the decloaking code. And last week Moore started getting questions directly from the accused pedophile in the case— a Rochester IT worker who claims he was falsely implicated by the software.

Moore finds that unlikely, but in the interest of transparency, he answered all the questions in detail. “It only seemed fair to reply to his questions,” Moore says. “Though I don’t believe my answers help his case at all.”

Using the outdated Decloaking Engine would not likely have resulted in false identifications, says Moore. In fact, the FBI was lucky to trace anyone using the code. Only suspects using extremely old versions of Tor, or who took great pains to install the Flash plug-in against all advice, would have been vulnerable. By choosing an open-source attack, the FBI essentially selected for the handful offenders with the worst op-sec, rather than the worst offenders.

Since Operation Torpedo, though, there’s evidence the FBI’s anti-Tor capabilities have been rapidly advancing. Torpedo was in November 2012. In late July 2013, computer security experts detected a similar attack through Dark Net websites hosted by a shady ISP called Freedom Hosting—court records have since confirmed it was another FBI operation. For this one, the bureau used custom attack code that exploited a relatively fresh Firefox vulnerability—the hacking equivalent of moving from a bow-and-arrow to a 9-mm pistol. In addition to the IP address, which identifies a household, this code collected the MAC address of the particular computer that infected by the malware.

“In the course of nine months they went from off the shelf Flash techniques that simply took advantage of the lack of proxy protection, to custom-built browser exploits,” says Soghoian. “That’s a pretty amazing growth … The arms race is going to get really nasty, really fast.”