More disturbing point: the GCHQ apparently used its toolbox to find ways to “alter the outcome of online polls, find private Facebook photos, and send spoof emails that appeared to be from Blackberry users, among other things”.
From China with Love
It’s the one year anniversary of what is now known as the Snowden revelations, which appeared on June 5 and June 9 when The Guardian broke news of classified National Security Agency documents and Edward Snowden revealed himself in Hong Kong as the source of those leaks.
There is still much to decipher from the chronology of events in the aftermath and the sudden global awakening to the end of privacy. Among the impacts on the personal, business and political fronts, one interesting salient feature is the hypocritical rhetorical spats between the US and China in recent weeks, which could set the undertone for US-Sino relations for years to come.
Snowden said his biggest fear is that nothing would change following his bold decision a year ago.
You can find the entire column here.
There is an unspoken underlying tension in the workplace on privacy matters relating to office telephones, computers, emails, documents, CCTV cameras, etc. Employers like to think they reserve the right to probe what they consider their property while employees believe their turf is clear from invasion.
This tension is nowhere better exemplified than by reports last Thursday that operatives with US tech giant Microsoft Inc. hacked into a blogger’s Hotmail account in the course of an investigation to try to identify an employee accused of stealing Microsoft trade secrets.
And it is not uncommon in my business to encounter client complaints about potential espionage and other alleged misconduct by their employees, leading to their consideration to search the (company-owned) computers, emails, phone records, etc.
Creating Giants to Battle Snoops by NSA and the Likes
Size matters in the covert wars of cyber espionage – even more so when two Herculean cyber warriors merge on Wall Street. US cyber-security firm FireEye Inc. announced the acquisition of Mandiant Corp. late last week in a deal worth more than US$1 billion, generating not just an immediate surge in FireEye’s share price but a Mexican wave across the world.
This merger and creation of a next-generation cyber-security firm – FireEye is a provider of security software for detecting cyber-attacks and Mandiant a specialist firm best known for emergency responses to computer network breaches – comes at a time when old-style anti-virus software took a dive, with governments, companies and private citizens across the globe hunting desperately for more effective defensive measures to fend off sophisticated hackers and state-sponsored cyber-attacks.
But the interesting and ironic twist to this FireEye and Mandiant deal is that many of Mandiant’s employees came from the US intelligence world and the Defense Department.
The Year 2014 Equals 1 P.S.
Historians can be expected to mark June 9, 2013 as a significant date in the evolution of the surveillance and monitoring of mankind and peg 2013 alongside George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, making 2014 officially 1PS – one year Post Snowden.
There is justification for this chronological divide. The world will be working its way out of the events of last June for years and decades to come, trying to come to grips with the astonishing ability of electronic snoopers to surreptitiously monitor the details of millions of lives.
It appears that they will continue to be able to do so despite growing knowledge of the pervasive level of this surveillance.
Please find the full column here.
Security officials leave an easily tapped device in closed-door conferences of European leaders
In photos made public of several closed-door bilateral meetings between various European leaders last week, there were two common denominators. One was the presence of the French President Francois Hollande. The other was the VoIP phone on the desk. The question is: What is that phone doing there?
In the middle of a major brouhaha over charges that the US National Security Agency had allegedly monitored the phone conversations of foreign diplomats, the officials in those photos were speaking to each other in the presence of this easily-tapped device.
What these these photos highlight is a security lapse, thus generating many questions: What else have European countries missed and not done to better protect their leaders from American or any eavesdropping?
Or was Dick Cheney looking for a cheap excuse to play politics?
Edward Snowden with his sudden departure from Hong Kong for Moscow and eventually elsewhere, possibly a country hostile to the US, would reignite the question if he’s a spy or double agent.
But the allegations made last week by former US vice president Dick Cheney that the National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden could be a spy for China is off track, and he knows it, and are a deliberate public distraction as the Obama administration searches for scapegoats in the midst of defending the NSA surveillance programs with their one and only trump card.
Snowden left with his passport annulled, a warrant on his head plus criminal charges of espionage, theft and communicating classified intelligence to unauthorized persons.
But here is the dichotomy: While the corporate world is still coping with US regulations on better corporate governance practices, where does the notion of whistleblowing stand right now?
Please read the entire column here.
Check out the Guardian online interview with Edward Snowden here. Thousands of comments from readers and still counting.
The Art of Hiding and Being Undetectable
The world knows by now Edward Snowden, the former private contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked revelations of massive US clandestine electronic surveillance and eavesdropping programs, is still at large in Hong Kong.
You might wonder how Snowden managed to remain obscure, both in the physical and cyber spheres.
Hong Kong, a former British colony now a major global financial center and Special Administrative Region of China, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with a population of over seven million spread over just 1,104 square kilometers.
But it is precisely for these reasons that Hong Kong may be the ideal place. One could be easily spotted or located or one could capitalize on the dense crowd and modern infrastructure to negotiate his way unnoticed in the physical, digital and cyber dimensions.
And Snowden sure knows how to do that.
So what would you do if you were Snowden or if you simply needed to hide and remain undetectable for a period of time?
In Spies We Trust
The two-day private talks between the US and Chinese Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping this weekend in Rancho Mirage, CA are expected to include, among other thorny issues, the dwindling trust between the two countries following the recent spate of cyber intrusions the US have repeatedly alleges to have originated from China.
In the first diplomatic efforts to defuse chronic tensions, the two have also agreed to launch regular, high-level talks next month on how to set standards of behavior for cyber security and commercial espionage. But don’t expect anything concrete from these meetings. The state of cyberspace diplomacy is heading only south.
Please read the full column here.
Spies in the newsroom? Or spying on newsrooms? There’s far too much of both
(The Inside Story of the Bloomberg Spying Scandal – and Snooping on the Associated Press – and Some Remedies.)
I often get strange, tough questions from the clients of my business intelligence and commercial investigation firm, but the recent bombardments highlight a new trend: bloated or irrational paranoia, depending on your take.
Should I stop using emails? Would you recommend a personal VPN? Is it safer to discuss in person than over an electronic device?
Just last week, one client pondered whether he should be using the Bloomberg terminal and another questioned if his phone, video and Skype calls were safe. I can’t blame them. Just look at the headline news the past week alone…
Please read the full column here.
You could be out of pocket as well as out of office if you reveal too much
It may be so much the norm and standard practice one often never think twice but go along with it, totally oblivious to the risks and implications…
I am referring to those seemingly harmless out-of-office notifications: Consider how sensitive personal and company information as well as chain of command details were often automatically and unnecessarily revealed to the world.
US decision to ban Chinese computer parts could mean no computers
The American Congress signed a US appropriations bill into law late March that restricts government purchase of Chinese computer equipments and technologies on fear of cyber-espionage risks.
The move inevitably prompted strong retaliation from China but my immediate curious question is: Where on earth is the US planning to buy its hardware, when even the major US brands like Dell, Apple and Hewlett-Packard – and also many Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese brands – are made in China?
I have 2 solutions…..
Please read the full column here.
The Security Assault on Social Networks
Forget hacking. It works but it’s illegal.
Big data mining is the future of cyber espionage. It is not illegal as long as the data is open source and in the public domain. And all that data on “open” social networking Web sites are most vulnerable.
Two recent commercially developed software packages could soon be giving your government and employer and possibly anyone else who is interested – ways to spy on you like never before, including monitoring your words, your movements and even your plans now and into the future.
While Attempting to Suppress Transparency
Paradoxically, even as the Hong Kong government is proposing far-reaching changes to the Companies Ordinance that would bring due diligence and investigations to a stop, officials are also quietly studying the possibility of introducing a Freedom of Information Act.
If that seems a contradiction, that’s because it is.
The Companies Ordinance amendments, either missed or ignored by the mainstream media when it was passed through the legislature earlier last year, will result in withholding from the public parts of the identification numbers and details of the residential addresses of company directors found in the Hong Kong company registration records – the very thing a freedom of information act is designed to facilitate.
Please read the full column here.
Spying on Spies
The FBI probe into the scandal involving former CIA director David Petraeus and his mistress may have stolen global headlines the past week.
But there is something else the FBI knows that should warrant more attention. Something closer to those of us less exalted than the boss of the world’s most famous spy agency.
The FBI is known to have video footage, covertly taken in a hotel room somewhere in China, showing how Chinese agents broke in and swept through the belongings and laptop of an American businessman.
There were recent media reports of similar incidents. The FBI is now showing the clip as a warning to corporate security experts of major US companies.
The FBI also warned some months ago about the risks of using hotel wi-fi networks and recommended all government officials, businessmen and academic personnel take extra caution when traveling abroad.
Whilst the corporate world is often most at risks, the average citizens are also highly vulnerable, especially to electronic surveillance on home and foreign soil.
So what can one do to protect the personal data and business secrets on the computers, especially when traveling abroad?
A little secret and long overdue column – as I have promised some weeks ago.
How about leading a cyber lifestyle without the risks of compromising your computer, privacy and precious confidential data… ie. your life?!
There’s an easy solution and you do not have to be a computer expert. But the CIA, MI6, etc, wouldn’t want you to know the trick… because you can beat those spies and hackers by going online and leaving no trace.
Read the full article here.
In the increasingly pugnacious cyber espionage war, the US is not only admittedly losing out to countries like China and Russia but the real headline news is, the US is still at a loss on how to protect itself against the massive intellectual property threats on its very turf.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers told audience at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) cyber conference, held on 26 September in Washington DC, that the US is “running out of time” – US government officials have stated that no country engages in cyber espionage as systematically, thoroughly and broadly as China and the theft of critical intellectual property is billing up to US$1 trillion.
The Rogers-Ruppersberger Bill designed to stem the tide is facing resistance at the Senate.
This Bill proposed to offer business liability insurance cover to the business community. In return, the victimized companies would have to share their threat information with the government, who will in turn share that experience with the business world.
(What? Are you kidding me?! Okay, I hear you at the back row).
Need I say more? Find out more about it here.
The Pentagon’s recent sworn: They won’t spy on journalists.
(Yeah right…. Yes, I hear you at the back.)
The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave an order July 19 to clampdown on classified leaks from the Pentagon and “monitor all major, national level reporting”.
This raised immediate concerns amongst the press as journalists wondered: is the Pentagon planning to spy on their very act of reporting or simply to conduct wide-sweeping news scans for supposedly leaked information? The former, left to one’s imagination, could include wiretapping, surveillance and various forms of intrusive acts.
The Pentagon press secretary George Little reportedly replied in writing:
“The secretary and the chairman both believe strongly in freedom of the press and encourage good relations between the department and the press corps.” (Read this).
Meanwhile, a true story, I know a journalist who was spied upon by a Chinese intelligence agent.
The agent apparently tried to recruit the reporter by offering “huge rewards” if he cooperates and collects information about certain individuals under the pretense of combing background data for potential stories.
This journo friend declined outright but not long after, he suspected his phones were bugged and asked for help.
Quite simply though cumbersome: buy and replace regularly several low-value, use-and-dispose SIM cards, several used cellular phones (the pre-smartphone days type like those good old Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, etc) and used laptops.
In short, change your phone and cyber lifestyle – at least for the time being (Refer to my earlier commentary: Shhh… How to Beat the CIA and Protect Your Data).
I just picked up 2 interesting reports on surveillance matters.
It was reported that the FBI claimed its surveillance on those involved in the Occupy movement is within legal boundaries and did not cause “unnecessary intrusions into the lives of law-abiding people.”
This came after the American Civil Liberties Union used the Freedom of Information Act to secure FBI surveillance documents on the movement in a lawsuit and asked why the agency withheld two-thirds of its records and subsequently cited national security as a reason for the nondisclosure (Read this).
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the civil rights group Liberty used the UK Data Protection Act to represent a disabled woman in a legal action against a commercial security firm and its undercover surveillance “usual practice” which, as part of their investigative works for insurance companies, send agents disguised as delivery men to spy on the sick and disabled in their homes (Read this).
These are just going to lead to endless debates. Watch this space, I might post a column on this topic.
Interesting spy updates over the past few days.
Question: where do you think is the spy capital of the world?
Hint: Starts with letter B.
Did someone say Bei….?
Say what, Brussels?! Well, that’s according to Belgian intelligence chief Alain Winants, who added that spies usually pretend to be diplomats, journalists, lobbyists, businessmen or students (Read this - and please see my previous columns about spies pretending to be businessmen in China and students in US campus in Spy vs Spy and Espionage on Campus, respectively).
Now speaking of diplomats, the well known intelligence historian and collector of spy gadgets H. Keith Millon reportedly claimed “there are more spies at the United Nations than diplomats” (Read this).
The latter piece is not surprising but much depends on one’s definition of spy. But then again, given Million’s reputation in the intelligence trade…
The US works out a free ride for its spooks
I have always fancied having a smorgasbord of passports, each bearing a different name, country of citizenship and photo — just like the spies as we know them, or at least as we understand them from spy fiction and movies like James Bond and CIA agent Jason Bourne in the Bourne Trilogy movies.
However, airport security checks and immigration clearance must be a nightmare for real spies, undercover agents and intelligence officials these days as governments, increasingly wary of the growing sophistication of terrorists, have invented new technologies to try to detect them. Hence the increased tight security measures at airports over the world have created lots of inconvenience for the intelligence community. And the pseudo passports probably don’t even work, given the facial recognition checks on top of the fingerprint hassles that have become commonplace at immigration checkpoints across the globe.
The spymasters know and they care, and they set out to do something about it.
So in late July, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the agency within the US Department of Homeland Security that exercises authority over the security of the traveling public in America – reportedly put procedures in place to allow the employees of three US intelligence agencies to pass un-scrutinized through airport security checks with convenience… (Read the entire column here and there).