Tag Archives: Hack

FBI-SilkRoad

Shhh… The FBI Unmasking of TOR Users with Metasploit

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

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

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

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

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

A hearing on the matter is set for February 23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iPhone-Encryption

Shhh… DOJ Uses 18th Century Law to Make Apple Unlock Encrypted iPhones

It’s time to raise the antenna again on smartphone encryption matters.

Law enforcement agencies, particularly the FBI, have been desperately pressurizing the Congress to force Apple and Google to do away with their new default smartphone encryption. And authorities are apparently giving in.

According to an exclusive report by Ars Technica (below) earlier this week, court documents from 2 federal criminal cases in New York and California show the US Department of Justice on October 31 this year went as far as exercising a 18th century law – the All Writs Act – to compel Apple and at least one other company to cooperate with law enforcement officials in investigations dealing with locked and encrypted smartphones.

The 225-year-old law gives the courts the right to issue whatever writs or orders in order to compel someone to do something.

To the extent that Apple has recently beefed up encryption in its latest iOS 8, the fact that the DOJ would go to such absurd lengths might set worrying precedence – recall a recent ludicrous DOJ assertion that the new encryption standards would kill a child.

A more disturbing question: What would you do if you were FBI director James Comey making his rounds to denounce smartphone encryption?

Make the DOJ use the All Writs Act to force manufacturers to install convenient backdoors. Why not?

—————————————-

Feds want Apple’s help to defeat encrypted phones, new legal case shows

Prosecutors invoke 18th-century All Writs Act to get around thorny problem.
by Cyrus Farivar – Dec 1 2014, 10:00pm CST

OAKLAND, CA—Newly discovered court documents from two federal criminal cases in New York and California that remain otherwise sealed suggest that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is pursuing an unusual legal strategy to compel cellphone makers to assist investigations.

In both cases, the seized phones—one of which is an iPhone 5S—are encrypted and cannot be cracked by federal authorities. Prosecutors have now invoked the All Writs Act, an 18th-century federal law that simply allows courts to issue a writ, or order, which compels a person or company to do something.

Some legal experts are concerned that these rarely made public examples of the lengths the government is willing to go in defeating encrypted phones raise new questions as to how far the government can compel a private company to aid a criminal investigation.

Two federal judges agree that the phone manufacturer in each case—one of which remains sealed, one of which is definitively Apple—should provide aid to the government.

Ars is publishing the documents in the California case for the first time in which a federal judge in Oakland specifically notes that “Apple is not required to attempt to decrypt, or otherwise enable law enforcement’s attempts to access any encrypted data.”

The two orders were both handed down on October 31, 2014, about six weeks after Apple announced that it would be expanding encryption under iOS 8, which aims to render such a data handover to law enforcement useless. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that DOJ officials told Apple that it was “marketing to criminals” and that “a child will die” because of Apple’s security design choices.

Apple did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.

Meet the “All Writs Act”

Alex Abdo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, wondered if the government could invoke the All Writs Act to “compel Master Lock to come to your house and break [a physical lock] open.”

“That’s kind of like the question of could the government compel your laptop maker to unlock your disk encryption?” he said. “And I think those are very complicated questions, and if so, then that’s complicated constitutional questions whether the government can conscript them to be their agents. Then there’s one further question: can the government use the All Writs Act to compel the installation of backdoors?”

But, if Apple really can’t decrypt the phone as it claims, the point is moot.

“Then that’s pretty much the end of it,” Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ars. “The writ doesn’t require Apple to do something that is impossible for it to do.”

Andrew Crocker, a legal fellow also at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out on Twitter on Tuesday that back in 2005, a different New York magistrate refused to accept the government’s invocation of the All Writs Act to obtain real-time cell site data.

As Magistrate Judge James Orenstein wrote at the time:

Thus, as far as I can tell, the government proposes that I use the All Writs Act in an entirely unprecedented way. To appreciate just how unprecedented the argument is, it is necessary to recognize that the government need only run this Hail Mary play if its arguments under the electronic surveillance and disclosure statutes fail.

The government thus asks me to read into the All Writs Act an empowerment of the judiciary to grant the executive branch authority to use investigative techniques either explicitly denied it by the legislative branch, or at a minimum omitted from a far-reaching and detailed statutory scheme that has received the legislature’s intensive and repeated consideration. Such a broad reading of the statute invites an exercise of judicial activism that is breathtaking in its scope and fundamentally inconsistent with my understanding of the extent of my authority.

“Any capabilities [Apple] may have to unlock the iPhone”

One of the new phone search cases was filed in federal court in Oakland, just across the bay from San Francisco, while another was filed in federal court in Manhattan.

In the Oakland case, prosecutors asked a federal judge in to “assist in the execution of a federal search warrant by facilitating the un-locking of an iPhone.”

Ars went in person to the Oakland courthouse on Wednesday to obtain the documents and is publishing both the government’s application and the judge’s order for the first time here. The All Writs Act application and order are not available via PACER, the online database for federal court records.

“This Court has the authority to order Apple, Inc., to use any capabilities it may have to unlock the iPhone,” Garth Hire, an assistant US attorney, wrote to the court and cited the All Writs Act.

“The government is aware, and can represent, that in other cases, courts have ordered the unlocking of an iPhone under this authority,” he wrote. “Additionally, Apple has routinely complied with such orders.”

“This court should issue the order because doing so would enable agents to comply with this Court’s warrant commanding that the iPhone be examined for evidence identified by the warrant,” he continued. “Examination of the iPhone without Apple’s assistance, if it is possible at all, would require significant resources and may harm the iPhone. Moreover, the order is not likely to place any unreasonable burden on Apple.”

In response, Magistrate Judge Kandis Westmore ordered that Apple “provide reasonable technical assistance to enable law enforcement agents to obtain access to unencrypted data.” She did not specifically mention the All Writs Act.

But she added:


It is further ordered that, to the extent that data on the iOS device is encrypted, Apple may provide a copy of the encrypted data to law enforcement but Apple is not required to attempt to decrypt, or otherwise enable law enforcement’s attempts to access any encrypted data.

Westmore’s language is a near-duplicate of a June 6, 2014 order issued by a different judge from the Northern California district, San Jose division, which is about 40 miles south of Oakland. There, Magistrate Judge Howard Lloyd ordered Apple to assist in the search of an iPad Mini, months before the release of iOS 8.

New spying tools afoot

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported on an order issued by a federal magistrate in New York in a case involving alleged credit card fraud.

In that Manhattan case, Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein granted the government’s proposed order on the same day as Westmore (October 31, 2014), also citing the All Writs Act, which compels the unnamed phone manufacturer to provide “reasonable technical assistance” in unlocking the device.

The mystery company could challenge the judge’s order, according to Brian Owsley, a former federal magistrate judge who now is a law professor at Indiana Tech.

“Unfortunately, we will probably not know because the issue will likely be sealed even though there should be more transparency in these issues,” he told Ars by e-mail, noting that during his tenure on the bench he could not remember a time when the government invoked the All Writs Act.

“It is only through greater transparency will we start to get the answers. If the provider simply complies we will know nothing. Here, Judge Gorenstein’s approach strikes me as very even-handed, but the inherent problem is that those who are concerned about privacy issues in general simply have to hope that the provider will speak up for us.”

But Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a former federal prosecutor, does not believe that the seized phone in the New York case was an iOS 8 device.

“The government obtained a warrant on October 10 for a phone already in its possession,” he told Ars by e-mail. “Apple’s announcement was something like September 18. If it was an iPhone, it was probably an iPhone running [on] an earlier operating system.”

Still, Alex Abdo, the ACLU attorney, after reading a copy of the Oakland documents, concluded that the “government’s application raises troubling questions about the extent to which it can force companies to break the products they sell.”

“We are heartened, however, that the court recognized that possibility and stopped short of ordering Apple to come up with a way to decrypt its customers’ data,” he added.

“More broadly, it is disconcerting that the government is relying on a catch-all law to seek surveillance powers that it should be seeking from Congress and the public,” said Abdo. “If the government wants new spying tools, it should allow our democratic process to debate them openly first.”

UPDATE 1:50pm CT: Jonathan Mayer, a lecturer at Stanford Law, said that use of the All Writs Act is not as novel as it may seem. (He recommended his recent lecture on the subject!)

“The TL;DR is that there is nothing new about using the All Writs Act to compel assistance,” Mayer told Ars by e-mail. “And there is also nothing new about using it to compel assistance with unlocking a phone. That repeated language you saw? It’s provided by Apple itself!”

“As for the opinion discounting the All Writs Act, that had to do with surveillance under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Where ECPA applies, the All Writs Act doesn’t. (It’s just a default, as the court rightly noted.) Phone unlocking isn’t covered by ECPA, so the All Writs Act remains in play.”

WhatApp-Read

Shhh… How to Prevent Someone from Knowing When You’ve Seen Apps Messages

Here’s a recent LifeHacker article that may be well received: a manual on how to turn off the “read receipt” feature in some of the most popular apps, including What’s App. And yes, that’s another one up for privacy.

Blackberry-Encryption

Shhh… Former NSA Attorney: Encryption Behind Blackberry’s Demise & Warning to Apple and Google

The authorities hate smartphone encryption and it shows. And they’re in concerted efforts to wage a war against it.

In echoing the recent messages from FBI director James Comey and GCHQ chief Robert Hannigan, former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker told the Web Summit audience in Dublin earlier this week that the moves by Google and Apple and others to encrypt user data was more hostile to western intelligence gathering than to surveillance by China or Russia.

In a conversation with Guardian special projects editor James Ball, Baker used Blackberry as an example:

Encrypting user data had been a bad business model for Blackberry, which has had to dramatically downsize its business and refocus on business customers. “Blackberry pioneered the same business model that Google and Apple are doing now – that has not ended well for Blackberry,” said Baker.

He claimed that by encrypting user data Blackberry had limited its business in countries that demand oversight of communication data, such as India and the UAE and got a bad reception in China and Russia. “They restricted their own ability to sell. We have a tendency to think that once the cyberwar is won in the US that that is the end of it – but that is the easiest war to swim.”

Baker said the market for absolute encryption was very small, and that few companies wanted all their employees’ data to be completely protected. “There’s a very comfortable techno-libertarian culture where you think you’re doing the right thing,” said Baker.

“But I’ve worked with these companies and as soon as they get a law enforcement request no matter how liberal or enlightened they think they are, sooner to later they find some crime that is so loathsome they will do anything to find that person and identify them so they can be punished.

This latest anti-encryption blabbing drew quick defense from Blackberry COO Marty Beard, who found Baker’s remarks “don’t make any sense”.

“Security is a topic that’s increasing in importance,” Beard told the audience at FedScoop’s FedTalks event Thursday. “It’s the reason that all G7 countries and the G20 work with BlackBerry.

“We just see it growing in importance. The increasing cybersecurity threats are exploding, security across all [technology] layers is critical.”

GoogleHacked

Shhh… iCloud Hack Victims to Sue Google for $100 million

Photo credit: http://www.pitstopmedia.com/

Hollywood lawyer Marty Singer, of Los Angeles-based law firm Lavely & Singer, has written to Google chairman Eric Schmidt and founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin threatening to sue Google for US$100 million if the US search giant failed to remove the naked photos of their clients that were recently hacked and posted online.

Their clients include a dozen of Hollywood celebrities like Kate Upton, Amber Heard, Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande and Cara Delevingne whose nude photos have been hacked and distributed online after hackers took advantage of a flaw in Apple’s password recovery system to gain access to their iCloud accounts.

Singer has accused Google of “blatantly unethical behavior” – as takedown requests were sent to the company days after the photos were leaked but those images remained on YouTube and blogs – and its failure “to act expeditiously, and responsibly to remove the images, but in knowingly accommodating, facilitating, and perpetuating the unlawful conduct. Google is making millions and profiting from the victimization of women”.

“The seriousness of this matter cannot be overstated. If Google continues to thumb its nose at my clients’ rights – and continues to both allow and facilitates the further victimization of these women – and disregards the demands of this letter, it does so at its own peril,” according to the letter (see below).

Google is no stranger to takedown requests.

A landmark ruling that originated from a Spanish court has led the European Court of Justice to rule last May that anyone living in the European Union and Europeans living outside the region could ask search engines 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”.

Following this controversial European “right to be forgotten” ruling, Google has started removing results from its search engine since late June.

Hacked celebrities threaten to sue

HKprotests3

Shhh… Phone Apps Disguised to Spy on Hong Kong Protesters

With the widespread use of social media during the week-long protests in Hong Kong, including attempts to find phone apps capable of defying potential shutdown of the power grid, this story from The Associated Press below (Credits to The Associated Press) is a timely stern reminder:

The Associated Press
Published: October 2, 2014

HONG KONG — The Chinese government might be using smartphone apps to spy on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, a U.S. security firm said.

The applications are disguised as tools created by activists, said the firm, Lacoon Mobile Security. It said that once downloaded, they give an outsider access to the phone’s address book, call logs and other information.

The identities of victims and details of the servers used “lead us to believe that the Chinese government are behind the attack,” said a Lacoon statement.

China is, along with the United States and Russia, regarded as a leader in cyber warfare research. Security experts say China is a leading source of hacking attacks aimed at foreign governments and companies to computers in China.

The Chinese government has denied engaging in cyberspying and says China is among the biggest victims of hacking attacks.

Lacoon said it found two similar “malicious, fake” apps that appeared to be related. One targets phones that run Apple Inc.’s iOS operating system; the other is meant for phones using Google Inc.’s Android system.

The “very advanced software,” known as an mRAT, or multidimensional requirements analysis tool, “is undoubtedly being backed by a nation state,” the company said. Lacoon said it was calling the software Xsser.

“The Xsser mRAT represents a fundamental shift by nation-state cybercriminals from compromising traditional PC systems to targeting mobile devices,” the company said.

Such “cross-platform attacks” that target both Apple and Android phones are rare, which adds to signs a government is involved, Lacoon said. It said the app might be the first spyware for iOS created by a Chinese government entity.

In May, U.S. prosecutors charged five Chinese military officers with cyberspying and stealing trade secrets from major American companies. A security firm, Mandiant, said last year it traced attacks on American and other companies to a military unit in Shanghai.

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?

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.

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

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

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

Shhh… GCHQ’s Hacking Tools Leaked

The latest Snowden revelations include a leaked document that lists the cyber-spy tools and techniques used by the American NSA’s UK counterpart GCHQ, according to a BBC News report.

More disturbing point: the GCHQ apparently used its toolbox to find ways to “alter the outcome of online polls, find private Facebook photos, and send spoof emails that appeared to be from Blackberry users, among other things”.

Shhh… Guide to Safer Computing

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

A nice reference and handy guide.

Post-Snowden, the US Reaps a Security Whirlwind

Post-Snowden, the US Reaps a Security Whirlwind

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.

Shhh… Microsoft, the NSA & You

End of Wins XP is No Dawn for Wins 8

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

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

Do You Need the World’s Most Secure Email?

Do You Need the World’s Most Secure Email?

Or is Privacy Even Possible?

Is privacy and a secure email on your wish list? How does the “most secure email program” sound to you? Or rather, is that still possible in this post-Snowden era? How about a completely secure search engine?

Find out more from my latest column here and there.

When the Boss Hacks

Hot Mails

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.

Find out more from my latest column here and there.

The Growing Hacker Epidemic

Time for Standardized Data Breach Law

The latest hack on Bitcoin exchange Mt.Gox, leading to its sudden bankruptcy late February, and the spate of recent cyber-attacks have prompted warnings of a wave of serious cybercrimes ahead as hackers continue to breach the antiquated payment systems of companies like many top retailers.

Stock exchange regulators like the American SEC have rules for disclosures when company database were hacked but the general public is often at the mercy of private companies less inclined or compelled to raise red flags.

The private sector, policymakers and regulators have been slow to respond and address the increasing threats and sophistication of cybercriminals – only 11 percent of companies adopt industry-standard security measures, leaving our personal data highly vulnerable.

Time for a standardized data breach law?

Find out more from my latest column posted here and there.

Cyberborgs for Cyber Wars

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.

Please find the entire column here and there.

Security Lapse at the EU Summit

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?

You can find the entire column here and there.

The Demise of the Cloud

NSA Snooping Compromises the Cloud Computing Industry

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg complained last week that trust in social networks and Internet companies has dived ever since cyber snooping and spying activities by the US National Security Agency began to make global headlines earlier this year.

It is no surprise. In fact, as fugitive former NSA operative Edward Snowden pointed out, the encryption system adopted by the International Organization for Standardization and its 163 member countries were actually written by the NSA, convincing proof that online platforms being used by Internet companies and the commercial world, including banks, could in fact be easily compromised by the NSA.

In other words, the NSA designed their own secret back door into the global encryption system for their convenience. So until the encryption system has been overhauled and taken away from NSA’s control, no server and no cloud service provider is secure enough to be entrusted with any confidential data.

So why then are blindly trusting companies still moving ever more data into the cloud and onto servers, where online access to highly confidential information related to clients, customers, employees, deals, business plans and performances, etc., is available to the US snoops?

You can find the entire column here.

Was Edward Snowden A Spy?

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.

If I Were Snowden

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?

Please read the full column here and there.

The Enemies of the US

Take your pick: Edward Snowden, Internet and phone service providers, or just everybody?

The furor over the past week about how US intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for years scooped up massive loads of private communications data raises one critical and distressing question.

Who, worldwide and in the US, are the general public supposed to trust now that it seems all forms of digital and cyber communications risk being read by the American authorities? The Americans, it seems, don’t believe it’s that big a deal. By 62-34, according to the latest poll by Pew Research and the Washington Post, they say it’s more important to investigate the threats than protect their privacy. But what about the rest of the world?

The immediate acknowledgement, rather than point blank denial, of the massive clandestine eavesdropping programs is no doubt alarming even for those long suspicious of such covert undertakings. But the more disturbing part is that the official response amounts to plain outright lies.

Please read this entire Opinion Column here.

The State of Cyber-War

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.

Computers: Patriot Games?

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.