NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers said at a cyber security conference in Washington DC Monday this week that the government needs to develop a “framework” so that the NSA and law enforcement agencies could read encrypted data when they need and he was immediately challenged by top security experts from the tech industry, most notably Yahoo’s chief information security officer Alex Stamos (see transcript).
Gemalto, the world’s largest SIM cards manufacturer that The Intercept reported last week to be hacked by the NSA and GCHQ, putting at risk some two billion SIM cards used in cellphones across the world, has somehow and somewhat concluded its findings after a “thorough” internal investigations in just six days, with assurance that its encryption keys are safe and admitted that the French-Dutch company believes the US and British spy agencies were behind a “particularly sophisticated intrusion” of its internal computer networks, back four-five years ago.
In The Intercept follow-up report (please see further below):
“Gemalto learned about this five-year-old hack by GCHQ when the The Intercept called them up for a comment last week. That doesn’t sound like they’re on top of things, and it certainly suggests they don’t have the in-house capability to detect and thwart sophisticated state-sponsored attacks,” says Christopher Soghoian, the chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Or consider this (below – Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0amvXr8BUk )
Gemalto Doesn’t Know What It Doesn’t Know
By Jeremy Scahill
Gemalto, the French-Dutch digital security giant, confirmed that it believes American and British spies were behind a “particularly sophisticated intrusion” of its internal computer networks, as reported by The Intercept last week.
This morning, the company tried to downplay the significance of NSA and GCHQ efforts against its mobile phone encryption keys — and, in the process, made erroneous statements about cellphone technology and sweeping claims about its own security that experts describe as highly questionable.
Gemalto, which is the largest manufacturer of SIM cards in the world, launched an internal investigation after The Intercept six days ago revealed that the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ hacked the company and cyberstalked its employees. In the secret documents, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the intelligence agencies described a successful effort to obtain secret encryption keys used to protect hundreds of millions of mobile devices across the globe.
The company was eager to address the claims that its systems and encryption keys had been massively compromised. At one point in stock trading after publication of the report, Gemalto suffered a half billion dollar hit to its market capitalization. The stock only partially recovered in the following days.
After the brief investigation, Gemalto now says that the NSA and GCHQ operations in 2010-2011 would not allow the intelligence agencies to spy on 3G and 4G networks, and that theft would have been rare after 2010, when it deployed a “secure transfer system.” The company also said the spy agency hacks only affected “the outer parts of our networks — our office networks — which are in contact with the outside world.”
Security experts and cryptography specialists immediately challenged Gemalto’s claim to have done a “thorough” investigation into the state-sponsored attack in just six days, saying the company was greatly underestimating the abilities of the NSA and GCHQ to penetrate its systems without leaving detectable traces.
“Gemalto learned about this five-year-old hack by GCHQ when the The Intercept called them up for a comment last week. That doesn’t sound like they’re on top of things, and it certainly suggests they don’t have the in-house capability to detect and thwart sophisticated state-sponsored attacks,” says Christopher Soghoian, the chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. He adds that Gemalto remains “a high-profile target for intelligence agencies.”
Matthew Green, a cryptography specialist at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, said, “This is an investigation that seems mainly designed to produce positive statements. It is not an investigation at all.”
In its statement, Gemalto asserted:
“While the intrusions described above were serious, sophisticated attacks, nothing was detected in other parts of our network. No breaches were found in the infrastructure running our SIM activity or in other parts of the secure network which manage our other products such as banking cards, ID cards or electronic passports. Each of these networks is isolated from one another and they are not connected to external networks.
It is extremely difficult to remotely attack a large number of SIM cards on an individual basis. This fact, combined with the complex architecture of our networks explains why the intelligence services instead, chose to target the data as it was transmitted between suppliers and mobile operators as explained in the documents.”
But security and encryption experts told The Intercept that Gemalto’s statements about its investigation contained a significant error about cellphone technology. The company also made sweeping, overly-optimistic statements about the security and stability of Gemalto’s networks, and dramatically underplayed the significance of the NSA-GCHQ targeting of the company and its employees. “Their ‘investigation’ seem to have consisted of asking their security team which attacks they detected over the past few years. That isn’t much of an investigation, and it certainly won’t reveal successful nation-state attacks,” says the ACLU’s Soghoian.
Security expert Ronald Prins, co-founder of the Dutch firm Fox IT, told The Intercept, “A true forensic investigation in such a complex environment is not possible in this time frame.”
“A damage assessment is more what this looks like,” he added.
In a written presentation of its findings, Gemalto claims that “in the case of an eventual key theft, the intelligence services would only be able to spy on communications on second generation 2G mobile networks. 3G and 4G networks are not vulnerable.” Gemalto also referred to its own “custom algorithms” and other, unspecified additional security mechanisms on top of the 3G and 4G standards.
Green, the Johns Hopkins cryptography specialist, said Gemalto’s claims are flatly incorrect.
“No encryption mechanism stands up to key theft,” Green says, “which means Gemalto is either convinced that the additional keys could not also have been stolen or they’re saying that their mechanisms have some proprietary ‘secret sauce’ and that GCHQ, backed by the resources of NSA, could not have reverse engineered them. That’s a deeply worrying statement.”
“I think you could make that statement against some gang of Internet hackers,” Green adds. “But you don’t get to make it against nation state adversaries. It simply doesn’t have a place in the conversation. They are saying that NSA/GCHQ could not have breached those technologies due to ‘additional encryption’ mechanisms that they don’t specify, and yet here we have evidence that GCHQ and NSA were actively compromising encryption keys.”
In a press conference today in Paris, Gemalto’s CEO, Olivier Piou, said his company will not take legal action against the NSA and GCHQ. “It’s difficult to prove our conclusions legally, so we’re not going to take legal action,” he said. “The history of going after a state shows it is costly, lengthy and rather arbitrary.”
There has been significant commercial pressure and political attention placed on Gemalto since The Intercept’s report. Wireless network providers on multiple continents demanded answers and some, like Deutsche Telekom, took immediate action to change their encryption algorithms on Gemalto-supplied SIM cards. The Australian Privacy Commissioner has launched an investigation and several members of the European Union parliament and Dutch parliament have asked individual governments to launch investigations. German opposition lawmakers say they are initiating a probe into the hack as well.
On Wednesday, Gerard Schouw, a member of the Dutch parliament, submitted formal questions about the Gemalto hack and the findings of the company’s internal investigation to the interior minister. “Will the Minister address this matter with the Ambassadors of the United States and the United Kingdom? If not, why is the Minister not prepared to do so? If so, when will the Minister do this?” Schouw asked. “How does the Minister assess the claim by Gemalto that the attack could only lead to wiretapping 2G-network connections, and that 3G and 4G-type networks are not susceptible to this kind of hacks?”
China Mobile, which uses Gemalto SIM cards, has more wireless network customers than any company in the world. This week it announced it was investigating the breach and the Chinese government said it was “concerned” about the Gemalto hack. “We are opposed to any country attempting to use information technology products to conduct cyber surveillance,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. “This not only harms the interests of consumers but also undermines users’ confidence.” He did not mention that China itself engages in widespread, state-sponsored hacking.
While Gemalto is clearly trying to calm its investors and customers, security experts say the company’s statements appear intended to reassure the public about the company’s security rather than to demonstrate that it is taking the breach seriously.
The documents published by The Intercept relate to hacks done in 2010 and 2011. The idea that spy agencies are no longer targeting the company — and its competitors — with more sophisticated intrusions, according to Soghoian, is ridiculous. “Gemalto is as much of an interesting target in 2015 as they were in 2010. Gemalto’s security team may want to keep looking, not just for GCHQ and NSA, but also, for the Chinese, Russians and Israelis too,” he said.
Green, the Johns Hopkins cryptographer, says this hack should be “a wake-up call that manufacturers are considered valuable targets by intelligence agencies. There’s a lot of effort in here to minimize and deny the impact of some old attacks, but who cares about old attacks? What I would like to see is some indication that they’re taking this seriously going forward, that they’re hardening their systems and closing any loopholes — because loopholes clearly existed. That would make me enormously more confident than this response.”
Green says that the Gemalto hack evidences a disturbing trend that is on the rise: the targeting of innocent employees of tech firms and the companies themselves. (The same tactic was used by GCHQ in its attack on Belgian telecommunications company Belgacom.)
“Once upon a time we might have believed that corporations like this were not considered valid targets for intelligence agencies, that GCHQ would not go after system administrators and corporations in allied nations. All of those assumptions are out the window, so now we’re in this new environment, where everyone is a valid target,” he says. “In computer security, we talk about ‘threat models,’ which is a way to determine who your adversary is, and what their capabilities are. This news means everyone has to change their threat model.”
Additional reporting by Ryan Gallagher. Josh Begley contributed to this report.
Here is an interesting story from The Guardian, based on a leaked cache of secret intelligence documents and cables.
Africa is new ‘El Dorado of espionage’, leaked intelligence files reveal
Continent emerges as the focus of international spying, with South Africa becoming a regional powerhouse and communications hub
Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill
Tuesday 24 February 2015 18.01 GMT
Africa emerges as the 21st century theatre of espionage, with South Africa as its gateway, in the cache of secret intelligence documents and cables seen by the Guardian. “Africa is now the El Dorado of espionage,” said one serving foreign intelligence officer.
The continent has increasingly become the focus of international spying as the battle for its resources has intensified, China’s economic role has grown dramatically, and the US and other western states have rapidly expanded their military presence and operations in a new international struggle for Africa.
With South Africa a regional powerhouse and communications hub, Pretoria has become a centre of the continent’s new Great Game, intelligence officials say, and a target of global espionage. The leaked documents obtained by al-Jazeera and shared with the Guardian contain the names of 78 foreign spies working in Pretoria, along with their photographs, addresses and mobile phone numbers – as well as 65 foreign intelligence agents identified by the South Africans as working undercover. Among the countries sending spies are the US, India, Britain and Senegal.
The United States, along with its French and British allies, is the major military and diplomatic power on the continent. South Africa spends a disproportionate amount of time focused on Iran and jihadi groups, in spite of internal documents showing its intelligence service does not regard either as a major threat to South Africa. “The Americans get what they want,” an intelligence source said.
The targets of foreign intelligence are myriad, ranging from jihadi groups to economic or technological theft. China has emerged as one of the biggest economic players on the continent, investing heavily in infrastructure, building a strong presence in many countries, in large part motivated by its huge appetite for fuel and resources.
Chinese intelligence is identified in one secret South African cable as the suspect in a nuclear break-in. A file dating from December 2009 on South Africa’s counter-intelligence effort says that foreign agencies had been “working frantically to influence” the country’s nuclear energy expansion programme, identifying US and French intelligence as the main players. But due to the “sophistication of their covert operations”, it had not been possible to “neutralise” their activities.
However, a 2007 break-in at the Pelindaba nuclear research centre – where apartheid South Africa developed nuclear weapons in the 1970s – by four armed and “technologically sophisticated criminals” was attributed by South African intelligence to an act of state espionage. At the time officials publicly dismissed the break-in as a burglary.
Several espionage agencies were reported to have shown interest in the progress of South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. According to the file, thefts and break-ins at the PBMR site were suspected to have been carried out to “advance China’s rival project”. It added that China was “now one year ahead … though they started several years after PBMR launch”.
In an October 2009 report by South Africa’s intelligence service, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), on operations in Africa, Israel is said to be “working assiduously to encircle and isolate Sudan from the outside, and to fuel insurrection inside Sudan”. Israel “has long been keen to capitalise on Africa’s mineral wealth”, the South African spying agency says, and “plans to appropriate African diamonds and process them in Israel, which is already the world’s second largest processor of diamonds”.
The document reports that members of a delegation led by then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman had been “facilitating contracts for Israelis to train various militias” in Africa.
The NIA’s relationship with its highly active Israeli counterpart, Mossad, has been mixed: close during the apartheid era, distant in the early years of the rule of the pro-Palestinian African National Congress, and more ambiguous in recent years.
One factor in South Africa’s attraction for rival spy agencies is the porous nature of its security services. A South African intelligence document, Security Vulnerabilities in Government, dated October 2009, offers an uncompromising look at the weakness of its security, a point rammed home by the fact it is marked secret but ended up among the leaked files.
The document says: “Foreign governments and their intelligence services strive to weaken the state and undermine South Africa’s sovereignty. Continuing lack of an acceptable standard of security … increases the risk.” It lists theft of laptop computers, insufficient lock-up facilities, limited vetting of senior officials in sensitive institutions, no approved encryption on landlines or mobiles, total disregard by foreign diplomats for existing regulations, ease of access to government departments allowed to foreign diplomats, and the lack of proper screening for foreigners applying for sensitive jobs.
According to one intelligence officer with extensive experience in South Africa, the NIA is politically factionalised and “totally penetrated” by foreign agencies: “Everyone is working for someone else.” The former head of the South African secret service, Mo Shaik, a close ally of the president, Jacob Zuma, was described as a US confidant and key source of information on “the Zuma camp” in a leaked 2008 Wikileaks cable from the American embassy in Pretoria.
The cables disclose an apparent assassination plot in Ethiopia against the South African politician Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, days after she became the new chair of the African Union Commission in 2012, giving a flavour of the day-to-day tribulations of intelligence operations in Africa.
South Africa’s head of station in Addis Ababa was warned of the plot, but instructed not to give details to the Ethiopians. Eventually, the Ethiopians were tipped off but the bodyguards assigned to Dlamini-Zuma’s hotel to protect her left their positions to get food and water.
In a frantic series of cables to Pretoria and in meetings with Ethiopian officials, South African intelligence officials are shown struggling to protect Dlamini-Zuma’s security without creating an impression of no confidence in Ethiopian security. When South Africa hands over a list of suspects, Ethiopian intelligence blames Sudan but is unable to link the names with Khartoum.
Congratulations to Laura Poitras and her team behind “CitizenFour” in winning the Oscars for Best Documentary Feature. And did you notice Snowden‘s girlfriend Lindsay Mills was on the stage (see picture above (Credit: YouTube) and video clips below)?
The newly announced internet-connected “Hello Barbie” (see video clip below) may be every girls’ dream but every parents’ nightmare.
The first-ever conversational doll (developed by ToyTalk in partnership with Mattel) will chat with the kids, record their conversations and transmit the recorded data to servers to be analyzed… and yes, risk being hacked and abused by pedophiles.
Think about it, it has all the hacking ingredients for any tech savvy blokes: wi-fi connection, speech-recognition software, phone apps (for kids?!), two-way conversations with kids and cloud storage.
Not convinced? Consider this: these capabilities mean these Barbies can also eavesdrop and record any conversation within the four-walls. Not much difference from the internet-connected spying Samsung smart TV.
“It wouldn’t take much for a malicious individual to intercept either the wi-fi communications from the phone or tablet, or connect to the doll over Bluetooth directly. These problems aren’t difficult to solve; the manufacturer needs to check the phone application carefully to make sure it’s secure. They also need to check that any information sent by the doll to their online systems is protected,” reportedly according to Ken Munro, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners, who has previously warned about the vulnerabilities in another doll called Cayla which uses speech-recognition and Google’s translation tools.
This news originally from The Intercept, based on leaked files from Edward Snowden, shouldn’t come as a surprise as the NSA had been on a mission to Collect It All (Chapter 3) according to Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place to Hide” (see above).
I’m a self-confessed hardcore fan of the good old IBM Thinkpad laptops but I’ve shied away from the black box ever since the Lenovo acquisition in 2005. And this (see video clips below) is one of those reasons. My tilt these days is towards those laptops with no parts made in China…
This may be bad news but it’s not the end of the world. There’s no need to push the panic button.
You may have read that the NSA have reportedly inserted spyware on the hard drives made by top manufacturers like Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, Samsung, etc – ie. the hard drives in literally every computers in the world. This global surveillance exercise, discovered by Moscow-based security software Kaspersky Lab, mainly targeted “government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activist” mainly in countries like Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria.
Now even if you’re not within that circumscribed range of victims, the fact remains that every computers can be compromised. But there are ways to circumvent the risks – you can never eliminate such risks but you can always minimize the impacts.
As I have pointed out in my public lectures, there are some simple tricks to protect your data (and your life if you’re an entrepreneur because your data is everything to your livelihood) even if you’re not an IT geek. One good practice is to never store a single file or doc, apart from the software and operating system, on your computer hard disk. And I’m not suggesting using the cloud given the well publicized risks. I meant storing your files on an external encrypted hard disk.
And together with several other simple tricks that I’ve shared publicly (for example, consider how you connect your devices online, when you should connect/disconnect the external hard drives to the computer…), there are indeed ways to protect your computers and data.
Here’s the video clip of Edward Snowden’s latest public appearance (via video conference) on 14 February 2015 at the The Davis Levin First Amendment Conference, to a sold-out audience at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu.
Previous speakers at this event include Daniel Ellsberg, Kenneth Starr, US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Ralph Reed, Nadine Strossen and Jay Sekulow.
This is probably the most telling moment of how US President Barack Obama is still on the wrong frequency on cyber matters…
Obama blamed the “impact on their [the tech companies] bottom lines” for the mistrust between the government and Silicon Valley in the aftermath of the Snowden revelations. These were his words, straight from the POTUSA mouth rather than reading from the scripts, in an exclusive interview with Re/code’s Kara Swisher (see video below) following the well publicized cybersecurity summit at Stanford University last Friday, when he signed an executive order to encourage the private sector to share cybersecurity threat information with other companies and the US government.
Contrast that with the high-profile speech by Apple CEO Tim Cook (see video below), who warned about “life and death” and “dire consequences” in sacrificing the right to privacy as technology companies had a duty to protect their customers.
His speech was delivered before Obama’s address to the summit – which the White House organized to foster better cooperation and the sharing of private information with Silicon Valley – best remembered for the absence of leaders from tech giants like Google, Yahoo and Facebook who gave Obama the snub amid growing tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. Heavyweights whom Obama counted as “my friends” in the Re/code interview (watch closely his expression at the 39th second of the clip above).
Popular search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing can only access 5 percent of all the contents in the internet space. So that’s one good reason to be excited about the new breed search engine Memex, now at beta stage, developed by the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which is capable of ploughing through the entire web space including the Dark Web, that part (much of the other 95 percent) of the cyber ecosystem where criminals operate in the shadows to buy, sell and advertise their illegal trades such as weapons and sex trafficking.
Find out more about MEMEX from this exclusive 60 Minutes clip:
And more about the Dark Web:
Amid continuing Sino-US spats on cyber-espionage and related matters, China is beefing up its cyber and national security in a big way as it is reportedly just months away from launching the longest quantum communications network on earth stretching some 2,000 kilometer between its capital Beijing and financial center Shanghai to transfer data close to the speed of light with no hacking risks – initially to transmit sensitive diplomatic and classified information for the government and military with personal and financial data also on the cards for the near future.
And that’s ahead of the previously announced plan for 2016 to become the first country to launch a quantum communications satellite into the orbit.
Looks like Snowden was spot on again. In a post just a month ago, I wrote what he said about how the US (would and) is paying the price for focusing too much on the cyber offensive at the expense of cyber defense.
Meanwhile, following the recent cyber-attack on Sony Pictures, President Barack Obama’s homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco announced earlier this week a new intelligence unit – the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center – to take the lead in tracking cyber-threats by pooling and disseminating data on cyber-breaches to other US agencies.
“Currently, no single government entity is responsible for producing coordinated cyber threat assessments,” according to Monaco.
China nears launch of hack-proof ‘quantum communications’ link
Published: Feb 9, 2015 11:13 p.m. ET
Technology to be employed for military and other official uses
BEIJING (Caixin Online) — This may be a quantum-leap year for an initiative that accelerates data transfers close to the speed of light with no hacking threats through so-called “quantum communications” technology.
Within months, China plans to open the world’s longest quantum-communications network, a 2,000-kilometer (1,240-mile) electronic highway linking government offices in the cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
Meanwhile, the country’s aerospace scientists are preparing a communications satellite for a 2016 launch that would be a first step toward building a quantum communications network in the sky. It’s hoped this and other satellites can be used to overcome technical hurdles, such as distance restrictions, facing land-based systems.
Physicists around the world have spent years working on quantum-communications technology. But if all goes as planned, China would be the first country to put a quantum-communications satellite in orbit, said Wang Jianyu, deputy director of the China Academy of Science’s (CAS) Shanghai branch.
At a recent conference on quantum science in Shanghai, Wang said scientists from CAS and other institutions have completed major research and development tasks for launching the satellite equipped with quantum-communications gear.
The satellite program’s likelihood for success was confirmed by China’s leading quantum-communications scientist, Pan Jianwei, a CAS academic who is also a professor of quantum physics at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in Hefei, in the eastern province of Anhui. Pan said researchers reported significant progress on systems development after conducting experiments at a test center in Qinghai province, in the northwest
The satellite would be used to transmit encoded data through a method called quantum key distribution (QKD), which relies on cryptographic keys transmitted via light-pulse signals. QKD is said to be nearly impossible to hack, since any attempted eavesdropping would change the quantum states and thus could be quickly detected by data-flow monitors.
A satellite-based quantum-communications system could be used to build a secure information bridge between the nation’s capital and Urumqi, a city that’s the capital of the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the west, Pan said.
It’s likely the technology initially will be used to transmit sensitive diplomatic, government-policy and military information. Future applications could include secure transmissions of personal and financial data.
Plans call for China to put additional satellites into orbit after next year’s ground-breaking launch, Pan said, without divulging how many satellites might be deployed or when. He did say that China hopes to complete a QKD system linking Asia and Europe by 2020, and have a worldwide quantum-communications network in place by 2030.
In 2009, China became the first country in the world to put quantum-communications technology to work outside of a laboratory.
In October of that year, a team of scientists led by Pan built a secure network for exchanging information among government officials during a military parade in Beijing celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic. The demonstration underscored the research project’s key military application.
“China is completely capable of making full use of quantum communications in a regional war,” Pan said. “The direction of development in the future calls for using relay satellites to realize quantum communications and control that covers the entire army.”
The country is also working to configure the new technology for civilian use.
A pilot quantum-communications network that took 18 months to build was completed in February 2012 in Hefei. The network, which cost the city’s government 60 million yuan ($9.6 million), was designed by Pan’s team to link 40 telephones and 16 video cameras installed at city government agencies, military units, financial institutions and health-care offices.
A similar, civilian-focused network built by Pan’s team in Jinan, the provincial capital of the eastern province of Shandong, started operating in March 2014. It connects some 90 users, most of whom tap the network for general business and information.
In late 2012, Pan’s team installed a quantum-communications network that was used to securely connect the Beijing venue hosting a week-long meeting of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, with hotel rooms where delegates stayed, as well as the Zhongnanhai compound in Beijing where the nation’s top leaders live and work.
Next on the development agenda is opening the network linking Beijing and Shanghai. Pan is leading that project as well.
If all goes as planned, Pan said, existing networks in Hefei and Jinan would eventually be tied to the Beijing-Shanghai channel to provide secure communications connecting government and financial agencies in each of the four regions. The new network could be operating as early as 2016.
No room for hype
A quantum code expert said that so far, quantum-communications technology development efforts in China have basically focused on protecting national security. “How important it will be for the public and in everyday life are questions that remain unanswered,” said the expert.
To date, Pan said, technical barriers and the high cost of systems development have kept private capital out of what’s now almost exclusively a government initiative. Moreover, it’s still too early to tell whether the technology has any potential commercial value.
Pan has warned the public not to listen to investment come-ons that hype the money-making potential of quantum-communications businesses. At this stage of the game, he said, the focus is still on technological development, not commercial applications.
Nevertheless, since 2009, USTC has been building a commercial enterprise called Anhui Quantum Communication Technology Co. to produce equipment based on technology developed by Pan and his team. The company is China’s largest quantum-communications equipment supplier. Last September, it said it had started mass-producing quantum-cryptography equipment.
Anhui Quantum general manager Zhao Yong said the company’s clients include financial institutions and government agencies seeking to supplement, not replace, conventional communications systems. Their shared goal, he said, is to improve data security.
Once the technology has matured, said Wang Xiangbin, a physicist at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, its range of applications should be targeted to specific industries and regions because of its high barrier in technology and cost. Quantum communications is not a technology suitable for mass use via the Internet, for example, Wang told a group of scientists at a 2012 seminar.
Some experts say it’s wrong to assume that quantum communications is a flawlessly secure means of transmitting information. Another Tsinghua physics professor, Long Guilu, said quantum communication is only theoretically safe, since malfunctioning equipment or operational errors can open doors to risk.
Experimental systems built in 2007 by Chinese and U.S. physicists reportedly achieved secure QKD transmissions between two points more than 100 kilometers apart. But the experiment also taught scientists that data can be intercepted by a third party during a transmission.
In addressing the naysayers, Pan admitted that quantum communications is not perfect. But he defended it as safer than conventional means of communication. In fact, he said, no means of protecting data is more secure than quantum communications.
To test the capacity and safety of the network linking Beijing and Shanghai, Pan said his team plans to ask other communications experts to carefully study the system and look for potential security holes. The network could then be modified in ways that close any detected gaps and reduce hacking risks.
“Assessments and testing will be conducted after the network is completed,” said Pan, who remains convinced that any network using quantum cryptographic technology is more secure than any other communications channel.
Pan has been working on quantum-communications technology since the late 1990s, when he was a researcher at the University of Vienna and working in a partnership with Austrian physicist Anton Zeilinger. That team is credited with developing the first protocol for quantum communications.
Pan worked with Zeilinger about a decade after U.S. physicist Charles Bennett and colleagues at IBM Research built the world’s first functioning quantum cryptographic system. Based on their research, the first network was installed in the U.S. city of Boston.
Like their counterparts in China, researchers in the United States, Japan and European countries continue work to advance the technology. A key effort is aimed at extending that potential reach of quantum-communications systems, which for years were used only to span short distances.
Some experts have even wondered whether the new technology has been misidentified, since its key feature is high-level cryptography, not electronic communications.
“What we can do now is merely encrypt data, which is far from real quantum communications,” said one expert who declined to be named. “Theoretically it can’t be hacked, but in practice it has many limitations.”
Guo Guangcan, director of USTC’s quantum-communications lab, said networks now operating and those being built in China “achieve encryption only,” whereas true communications networks “involve content.”
“It’s not accurate to call it quantum communications,” said Guo.
Whatever it’s called, China appears determined to push ahead with the research and development that paves the way for a new era of secure communications. And according to Pan, that era is still at least a decade away.
“It will take 10 to 20 years to really put (the technology) into practice,” said Pan.
Rewritten by Han Wei
This is really nothing new but I’m posting it because similar “news” resurfaced again the past week.
If you’ve already bought one, the easy solution is to cover the webcam with a duct tape unless you need to use it.
As it so happened, everything started and ended in Geneva…
It was a cold morning in mid-December 2008. Hervé Falciani has just finished packing his favorite black Rimowa luggage and a small handy leather bag with his five precious CDs safely tucked to the bottom.
“Mate I’m getting ready to leave for Nice for a few days, to do you know what,” he wrote on his encrypted email.
“Good luck mate. That’s the spirit. Am actually planning to get myself out of Geneva and home for good shortly after the New Year. Keep those stuff safe,” the reply promptly appeared on the computer screen.
“Will do. Thanks so much for all the guidance. Take care!” Falciani penned off, half-wishing his pal Snowden was not serious about leaving Geneva.
Well, that was probably how John le Carré approached his next best-selling spy novel but this opening scene may not be too far from the truth.
Falciani was widely dubbed the Snowden of the banking world when the HSBC exposé stole global headlines early this week. According to his profile, the then-36-year-old dual French-Italian national joined the British banking giant HSBC in 2000, in Monaco where he grew up, and was transferred to HSBC Private Bank (Suisse) in Geneva, Switzerland in 2006.
That was the same year Edward Snowden joined the CIA and the now famous whistleblower behind the NSA revelations was posted to Geneva the following year under diplomatic cover, where he admitted having grown disillusioned with American spy craft. He left Geneva and the agency in 2009.
And as an undercover CIA operative based in Geneva, Snowden probably knew some bankers as The Guardian once reported:
He described as formative an incident in which he claimed CIA operatives were attempting to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain secret banking information. Snowden said they achieved this by purposely getting the banker drunk and encouraging him to drive home in his car. When the banker was arrested for drunk driving, the undercover agent seeking to befriend him offered to help, and a bond was formed that led to successful recruitment.
The possibility that Snowden and Falciani knew each other may be a novelist’s creation and a trivial even if it’s true. But nevertheless, it would open up many possibilities.
Consider, for example, both claimed to have reported to their superiors, who ignored their respective complaints and warnings. Both became whistleblowers and accused for their actions. The two IT experts stole and released troves of internal data to the media – Falciani, the systems specialist of the HSBC Private Bank in Geneva now under the global spotlights, reportedly met French tax investigators at a cafe in Nice airport before Christmas of 2008 and handed them five CDs worth of confidential data pertaining to some 130,000 clients and 300,000 private accounts from 200 countries – which eventually reached then Finance Minister of France Christine Lagarde, who subsequently shared it with other countries.
And the rest was history as we know today.
Snowden is scheduled to speak via video-conference this Friday to the International Students For Liberty Conference in downtown Washington, D.C. Would be interesting to hear what he has to say about the HSBC exposé and… his friend Falciani.
A eight-member panel experts tasked to review privacy issues relating to online search giant Google Inc. has rejected late last week attempts by EU privacy watchdogs to extend the “right to be forgotten” ruling beyond the 28-nation bloc – see Bloomberg report below.
The European Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling last May that anyone living in the European Union and Europeans living outside the region could ask search engines like Google to remove links if they believed the online contents breached their right to privacy and are “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed.”
I have explained in my column last July that the ruling was Much Ado About Nothing as it amounted to everything but forgotten: what Google essentially did was to remove results from name search of those names approved to be deleted but only on its European websites. The same results remain on the Google US homepage and all its non-European sites. Furthermore, Google is only removing the results but not the links.
Thus no surprise there are now efforts to address these not-so-forgotten issues.
But as I have further pointed out then, the more devastating and often overlooked impact was how any “right to be forgotten” would be a much welcomed and God-sent convenience for “women with a past and men with no future”, essentially amounting to the “right to be defrauded” as it was also described recently by Jason Wright of Kroll.
In short, anyone in support and calling to extend the “right to be forgotten” ruling – including the Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner Allen Chiang who erroneously heralded it as a way to grant everyone a “second chance in life” – is not only pulling the plug on the free flow of information but also effectively facilitating the closing down of everyone’s right to information, which would derail the notion of free markets in this global economy if every individuals and entities could so conveniently erase their dirty laundries (like criminal convictions, litigation history, old debts and past bankruptcy records for starters) at the expense of their counter-parties who could no longer trace anything – especially if this ruling was blindly extended and embraced globally.
And I stress once again, the internet, originally designed to exchange raw data between researchers and scientists, has evolved into a self-contained, self-sustained and self-evolving ecosystem of records, communications, commerce, entertainment, etc. Any attempt to remove the contents, successful or otherwise, is like playing God.
Historians will mark the EU ruling as a (irreversible) seismic error. Extending it to a global scale will have no equals in the history of mankind.
Google Panel Opposes EU Data Watchdogs on Forgotten Case
by Stephanie Bodoni
(Bloomberg) — A panel of experts enlisted by Google Inc. to review privacy issues following a European Union court ruling backed the search giant’s bid to limit the “right to be forgotten” to websites within the 28-nation bloc.
The eight-member group, which includes Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, rejected a push by EU privacy watchdogs to extend search link removals to Google’s global site.
“Delistings applied to the European versions of search will, as a general rule, protect the rights of the data subject adequately in the current state of affairs and technology,” the group said in the 41-page report. “Removal from nationally directed versions of Google’s search services within the EU is the appropriate means to implement the ruling at this stage.”
A ruling by the EU Court of Justice last year created a right to be forgotten, allowing people to seek the deletion of links on search engines if the information was outdated or irrelevant. The ruling created a furor, with Mountain View, California-based Google appointing the panel to advise it on implementing the law.
The geographic scope of an EU court ruling that forced the company last year to remove some search links on request was a “difficult question that arose throughout” the panel’s meetings, the group said.
Today’s report puts the group at odds with the 28-nation EU’s data-protection regulators who last year urged the company to allow people to seek the deletion of links to some personal data on the company’s main U.S. website.
Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German justice minister and one of the panel’s member, said that she opposed the majority view of the group on the geographical scope of the EU court ruling.
Removal requests “must not be limited to EU domains,” she said in the report. “The Internet is global, the protection of the user’s rights must also be global. Any circumvention of these rights must be prevented.”
The Google advisory group last year visited seven European cities, from Rome to Berlin, listening to academics and public officials.
“It’s been valuable to hear a wide range of viewpoints in recent months across Europe and we’ll carefully consider this report,” David Drummond, Google’s top lawyer, said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re also looking closely at the guidance given by Europe’s data protection authorities as we continue to work on our compliance with” the EU court ruling.
The company has received 212,109 requests to remove 767,804 links from its website to date, according to its website.
The deletion of links beyond the 28-nation EU was one of two issues that created an initial split between Google and data-protection regulators. Regulators have complained that information blocked on EU websites shouldn’t be easily accessible by visiting Google in other countries by changing a few characters on the browser address line.
The company’s policy of notifying the media about deleted links to stories on their websites also sparked the ire of regulators. The report recommended that search engines “should notify the publishers to the extent allowed by law.”
“In complex cases, it may be appropriate for the search engine to notify the webmaster prior to reaching an actual delisting decision,” the panel said. “If feasible, it would have the effect of providing the search engine additional context about the information at issue and improve accuracy of delisting determinations.”
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.
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.
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.
Call of Duty
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.