Category Archives: Cyber Espionage

TimBerners-Lee

Shhh… Tim Berners-Lee on the Web & Privacy

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web 25 years ago and director of the World Wide Web Consortium, spoke at the Web We Want Festival last Saturday whereby he, according to The Guardian, also called on Saturday for a bill of rights that would guarantee the independence of the internet and ensure users’ privacy.

“If a company can control your access to the internet, if they can control which websites they go to, then they have tremendous control over your life,” the British computer scientist said. “If a government can block you going to, for example, the opposition’s political pages, then they can give you a blinkered view of reality to keep themselves in power.

“Suddenly the power to abuse the open internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies.”

Below is Tim Berners-Lee at a TED Talk earlier this year.

Phone-encrypt

Shhh… Apple & Google Phones Too Secure?

This may as well be the best ever advertisement any company would die for…

FBI director James Comey criticized on Thursday that the encryption in the latest operating systems of Apple and Google phones were so secure that law enforcement officials would have no access to information stored on those devices even with valid warrants and asked why companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law”.

“There will come a day when it will matter a great deal to the lives of people … that we will be able to gain access,” Mr Comey reportedly told the media.

“I want to have that conversation [with companies responsible] before that day comes.”

Law enforcement agencies place premiums on their forensic abilities to search sensitive data like photos, messages and web histories on smartphones – and also on old plain vanilla cellular phones to some extent – to solve some serious crimes: mobile phones increasingly perform and even replace what we used to do with our computers but thanks to the convergence of technologies, law enforcement and investigators are now able to use mobile phone forensic, much like computer forensic techniques, to retrieve data, including deleted data, from the phones as they did on computers.

The comments from Comey came hot on the heels of news last week that Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 8, is so well encrypted that even Apple Inc. cannot unlock their mobile devices. Google meanwhile is also adopting its latest encryption format for its new (to be released) Android operating system that the company would be unable to unlock.

Question: Has Comey approached the NSA for help?

Snowden-RightLivlihhood

Shhh… Snowden Won Right Livelihood Award

The former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has received Wednesday the Right Livelihood Honorary Award – also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” – from the Stockholm-based Right Livelihood Award Foundation for his work on press freedom and “for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights.”

Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the British newspaper The Guardian with whom Snowden collaborated to publish what became known today as the Snowden revelations, also won the award for “responsible journalism in the public interest.

Both Snowden and Rusbridger are honorary winners, meaning they will not receive the award’s customary 500,000 kronor (54,500 euros) but the foundation said it would fund legal support for Snowden, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced later this year.

The Swiss attorney general has reportedly said earlier this month that Snowden could receive Swiss asylum if he opts to travel to Switzerland to testify against the National Security Agency.

The Right Livelihood Award was created in 1980 by German-Swedish philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull to “honour and support those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”.

Three other prize winners, named to receive the monetary award, are Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahanger, Sri Lankan rights activist Basil Fernando and US environmentalist Bill McKibbben.

BenjaminNetanyahu

Shhh… Israeli Spooks Against Spying Palestinians for the US

Some 43 veterans of Israel’s secret spy agency Unit 8200 has written an open letter of protest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and head of the Israeli army accusing the agency of targeting and collecting data of innocent Palestinians for political and not national security purposes, adding that they have a “moral duty” not to “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians”.

This relates well to a New York Times article last week about how the special relationship between the US and Israel – including how the NSA shared “unminimized”, ie. raw data (on Arab-and Palestinian-Americans with relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories) with Israel unlike the sharing of only “minimized” data with other countries – has motivated Edward Snowden to blow the whistle last year.

CIA-ClandestineOps

Shhh… CIA’s Declassified Archives – Highlight American Vulnerabilities

The US Central Intelligence Agency released on Thursday a trove of newly declassified “Studies in Intelligence” documents on its homepage.

The move was the result of a long-running lawsuit between the agency and a former employee Jeffrey Scudder – according to the Washington Post (see video clip below) – whose CIA stint includes a 2-year spell looking after the agency’s historical files which ultimately ended his CIA career after he submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act to release records of old clandestine operations he believed should have been made public.

Amongst the 249 documents released, spanning from the 1970s to 2000s, there’s one labeled “Analyzing Economic Espionage” which attempts to examine foreign intelligence operations against US economic interests beyond the scope and threats of technological advances – including the focus on certain traits of Americans that make them vulnerable to foreign agents, ie. resulting in a threat to the US.

“Foreign intelligence services are more inclined to operate against American targets outside the US” and “some intelligence services that stop short of recruiting US citizens use intelligence operatives to elicit information from them; the targeted American is unwitting of his interlocutor’s intelligence connection”.

CIAclassified

The 7-page document listed “certain personality attributes that increase our vulnerability”:

- Americans like to talk. We tend to be sociable and gregarious, even with casual contacts. We want to be liked, especially by foreigners, because many of us are still trying to overcome an “ugly American” complex. We place a higher premium on candor than on guile, on trust than on discretion.

- Many Americans do not know foreign languages, which in some respects puts them at a disadvantage when living in foreign countries. This does not mean we are “innocents abroad,” but it may make us less likely to pick up clues of suspicious behavior. Americans who do not know the language of a given country may forget that nationals of that country in a position to overhear their conversations often do know English.

- Many Americans are ambitious, oriented toward job advancement and professional recognition. Inevitably, some morally weak individuals are willing to sacrifice personal integrity in pursuit of their career goals.

NSAmug

Shhh… The NSA Not Comfortable Being Watched?

How do NSA staffer feel about being filmed, even it’s just only in the public? Strangely, irate and very uncomfortable as 2 students found out Wednesday at the University of New Mexico’s Engineering and Science Career Fair where the NSA has set up a booth to recruit computer geeks (yes, hackers).

Source: The Intercept

Key-NZpm

Shhh… PM John Key Denied Mass Surveillance & NSA Sites in New Zealand

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key appeared before the press in Dunedin Tuesday and said he would not rule out the possibility that the American intelligence agency NSA is conducting mass surveillance on New Zealanders but rejected claims that Kiwi spies have access to such information.

Key also shot down claims made by both Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald Monday that the NSA had sites operating in the country but he declined to answer questions about the data collection programme X-Keyscore, citing national security concerns.

Wikileaks

Shhh… WikiLeaks Released Weaponized German Surveillance Malware (For Download) Used by Intelligence Agencies Around the World

Intelligence agencies around the world have been spying on journalists, activists and political dissidents using a surveillance malware produced by FinFisher, a German company specializing in computer intrusion systems, the exploitation of software and remote monitoring systems capable of intercepting communications and data from various devices, according to WikiLeaks which revealed Monday the latest published batch of secret documents.

The whistleblower website also released a list of FinFisher customers, which includes “Slovakia, Mongolia, Qatar State Security, South Africa, Bahrain, Pakistan, Estonia, Vietnam, Australia NSW Police, Belgium, Nigeria, Netherlands KLPD, PCS Security in Singapore, Bangladesh, Secret Services of Hungary, Italy and Bosnia & Herzegovina Intelligence”.

The FinFisher’s spyware is able to intercept communications and data from computers installed with the Mac OS X, Windows and Linux operating systems, as well as Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile portable devices.

“FinFisher continues to operate brazenly from Germany selling weaponised surveillance malware to some of the most abusive regimes in the world. The Merkel government pretends to be concerned about privacy, but its actions speak otherwise. Why does the Merkel government continue to protect FinFisher? This full data release will help the technical community build tools to protect people from FinFisher including by tracking down its command and control centers,” said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

But what makes the latest WikiLeaks release really stands out this time is that it did not simply release documents but posted the actual software for anyone to download- YES, the actual zip files containing the malware on its site but with this warning:

In order to prevent any accidental execution and infection, the following files have been renamed and compressed in password protected archives (the password is “infected”). They are weaponised malware, so handle carefully.”

Snowden-AucklandDotCom

Shhh… Snowden’s Latest Appearance – Kim Dotcom’s “Moment of Truth” Event in Auckland

Above: Edward Snowden discussed online surveillance on Kim Dotcom’s Moment of Truth event in Auckland, New Zealand on September 15. Both Julian Assange and Glenn Greenwald were also present.

The event follows up on the acknowledgement by Prime Minister John Key that the Kiwi intelligence agency Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) had tapped into the cable but only for the purposes of a cybersecurity programme – following his earlier denial of any allegation that the GCSB had spied on New Zealanders.

New Zealanders are now waiting for Key to explain the revelations that the GCSB operates X-Keyscore in New Zealand and conducting mass surveillance on the citizens on behalf of the NSA without their knowledge.

Watch the entire event here below:

Comcast-OnTOR

Shhh… Comcast Set Record Straight on TOR

Amidst widespread reports early this week that Comcast Corporation has been discouraging customers from using the Tor Browser, the anonymous browser favored by people like Snowden and hackers alike, Comcast – the largest broadcasting and cable company in the world by revenue – has clarified that the reports were not true and the company has not asked customers to stop using Tor or any other browser.

“We have no policy against Tor, or any other browser or software. Customers are free to use their Xfinity Internet service to visit any website, use any app, and so forth.”

See Comcast’s clarification here.

NobelPeacePrize

Shhh… Norway to Arrest Nobel-nominated Snowden

The Norwegian police should arrest NSA whistle-blower and fugitive Edward Snowden if he showed up in Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize this December, according to a Norwegian politician.

Norwegian Right Wing Party MP Michael Tatzschner warned that bagging the prestigious prize would in no way exempt Snowden from arrest and Norway should not make a distinction between a Nobel Peace Prize winner and any other wanted American citizen.

“Norway needs to respect the agreements that we have signed,” Tatzschener told Norway’s media Dagbladet on Tuesday, with reference to international law that, given a valid US warrant, requires Norway to arrest Snowden if he arrives in the country.

MAD-Magazine-Snowden-Flee

Snowden (shown above: Photo credit to MAD magazine) has been nominated for the Peace Prize, to be announced end of the year, amid growing global support.

He was recently granted a three-year residence permit by the Russian authorities on August 1.

But the most wanted man in the world could receive Swiss asylum if he opts to travel to Switzerland to testify against the National Security Agency, according to my previous piece earlier this week.

The Swiss Attorney General has stated that Switzerland would not extradite a US citizen if the individual’s “actions constitute a political offense, or if the request has been politically motivated”.

ECHQ

Shhh… Privacy Group Took “Five Eyes” Spy Pact Inquiries to Top European Court

Privacy International, a campaigning body on issues relating to surveillance matters, has lodged on Tuesday an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to publish the treaty behind the intelligence sharing amongst the “Five Eyes” after the British government declined their initial applications, which the civil liberties group branded as a violation of the right to access of information.

The Anglophone countries behind the “Five Eyes” – the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – have a treaty that bounds them to joint cooperation in signals intelligence – they don’t spy on each other but instead share the intelligence they have collected. The Snowden revelations also revealed that the NSA shared the intelligence with a host other “third parties”.

The British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the equivalent to the American NSA, has turned down every freedom of information requests filed by Privacy International for details on how information was shared between the intelligence agencies of this global spy pact.

According to The Guardian quoting Rosa Curling of law firm Leigh Day:

“The UK’s Freedom of Information Act precludes government authorities from disclosing to the public information directly or indirectly supplied by GCHQ.

“This absolute exemption is unlawful and contrary to article 10 of the European convention on human rights, which provides for the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to receive information.”

The ECHR, located in Strasbourg, France, is an international court set up by the European Convention on Human Rights.

edward-snowdens-russian-lawyer-hes-almost-broke

Shhh… Snowden Could Receive Swiss Asylum

The American whistleblower and most wanted fugitive Edward Snowden could receive Swiss asylum if he opts to travel to Switzerland to testify against the National Security Agency, according to Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung today.

The Swiss attorney general is apparently keen in Snowden’s testimony against the US intelligence agency and said to guarantee his safety, and not have him deported to the US, according to the Swiss paper based on a document they obtained: “What rules would apply if Edward Snowden is brought to Switzerland and the United States makes an extradition request”.

It will be interesting to know if there’s any other reasons why the Swiss government are keen to keep Snowden – the NSA stationed Snowden in Geneva for 3 years through 2010, deployed as undercover with diplomatic credentials.

Snowden was recently granted a three-year residence permit by the Russian authorities on August 1.

NSA-NoGlennPic

Cloud Hacks More Than Just Nude Pics

Ever Thought of More Catastrophic Consequences?

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

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

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

Please refer to my entire column here.

CellPhoneTower-Fake

Shhh… Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Possibly New Foreign Threats

In what seems like invasion of privacy scaling to new heights, surpassing even the most dystopian state of any hardcore Orwellian, Americans found to their horror of not only having to live with NSA snoops on all their private communications when a recent Popular Science report revealed the existence of fake cellphone towers across the US that cannot be linked to any owner or operator and set up simply to connect to nearby phones, bypassing encryption to eavesdrop on calls and read text messages.

GSMinterceptor-USmap

As many as 17 such fake cellphone towers have been discovered in July alone, with more expected to be found, according to the map above charted out in August by ESD America CEO Les Goldsmith and phone technology expert.

What’s more disturbing is that most of the fake towers are set up near US military bases which prompts the question if these were US or foreign government interceptors.

These interceptors are radio-equipped devices to overcome the onboard encryption on our phones, Android or iOS alike. Their target is actually another operating system hidden behind every phone called the baseband processor, which channels the communications between the core OS and the cellphone towers.

And these towers are unlikely to belong to the NSA as the agency can simply go the local phone carriers to suck up all the metadata, as the Snowden revelations have revealed.

It would be interesting to keep an eye on the US Federal Communications Commission which The Washington Post announced early August that it is investigating into the use and misuse of surveillance technology by criminal networks and foreign intelligence.

internet-undersea-cable

Shhh… NSA Ready for Google’s “Faster” Trans-Pacific Undersea Internet Cable

You can imagine the NSA getting impatient over free lunches following the announcement last month about Google’s proposed underseas fiber optic cable that will span the Pacific Ocean from the US west coast to Japan starting mid-2016.

The new cable dubbed “Faster” to transmit 60 terabits per second will be “easy to tap for sure”, according to a former NSA official quoted in a report by online news portal VentureBeat.

Google will cough out US$300 million to join hands with several parties – including China Mobile International, China Telecom Global, Global Transit, KDDI and SingTel – for the project which “could have big implications for Google on the public-cloud front and also for mobile needs”.

The involvement of some of these Google’s partners in this undertaking would blow the socks off many in the intelligence communities.

Intelligence agencies tapping into undersea cables have been well documented. The NSA’s British counterparts GCHQ, for example, have “Tempora” that could collect up to 21 million gigabytes of data every 24 hours as previously revealed by Edward Snowden, according to VentureBeat.

Apart from tapping communications, undersea cables are also left vulnerable exactly where they are.

scubaDivers-CutCables

Media reports had it that the Egyptian Armed Forces have arrested 3 scuba divers who tried to cut and sabotage an undersea internet cable in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile lawyers representing the US government are in court hearings at the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan this week to defend the government’s bulk collection of telephone records from millions of Americans. Please stay tune.

syrian-internet-hack-nsa

Shhh… NSA’s Secret Technology – No-Hold-Bar Computer Penetration

The recently released book No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald is a page-turning thriller and I find this portion (below) really stands out:

pg118-GlennGreenwaldBook

One can’t help but wonder if this “secret technology” is beyond what’s already been known, ie. the NSA’s ability to penetrate into “air gapped” computers.

Air gapped (or air-gapped) computers are also known as “clean machines” because they are not and would never be connected to the internet – and they have to be brand new and not used computers, preferably paid by cash.

No doubt a computer that cannot be connected to the internet is pretty limited in what it can do but it is deemed absolutely safe.

These machines are usually used by the military and intelligence agencies dealing with highly sensitive or classified information.

However, it has been reported that the NSA has managed to use radio waves to break into computers disconnected to the internet.

Edward Snowden, and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, are known to carry 3 to 4 laptops with them and it is no surprise one of these has been air gapped.

Snowden has even advised Greenwald on how to set up such a machine before the latter left New York to meet him in Hong Kong in the days building up to the Snowden revelations last year, as Greenwald wrote in his book.

But setting up and maintaining such a machine is more complex than one would initially think. Here’s a guide on the 10 rules to follow if you are still keen to have a clean machine.