The House overwhelmingly approved Wednesday legislation to end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. Are you counting on it? I’m not as it’s highly likely secret “alternatives” have already been paved to have the NSA continue business as usual…
(Above) Photo credit: CBS 60 Minutes
(Above) photo credit: RT (Image from twitter.com @Manuel_Rapalo)
No matter what the judge thinks, one can’t help feeling sorry for Jeffrey Sterling (see the New York Times story below) considering how David Petraeus got away so lightly.
Ex-C.I.A. Officer Sentenced in Leak Case Tied to Times Reporter
By MATT APUZZOMAY 11, 2015
LEXANDRIA, Va. — A former Central Intelligence Agency officer on Monday was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on espionage charges for telling a journalist for The New York Times about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. The sentence was far less than the Justice Department had wanted.
The former officer, Jeffrey A. Sterling, argued that the Espionage Act, which was passed during World War I, was intended to prosecute spies, not officials who talked to journalists. He asked for the kind of leniency that prosecutors showed to David H. Petraeus, the retired general who last month received probation for providing his highly classified journals to his biographer.
The case revolves around an operation in which a former Russian scientist provided Iran with intentionally flawed nuclear component schematics. Mr. Sterling was convicted in January of disclosing the operation to James Risen, a reporter for The Times, who had revealed it in his 2006 book, “State of War.” Mr. Risen described it as a botched mission that may have inadvertently advanced Iran’s nuclear program.
The Justice Department said that Mr. Sterling’s disclosures compromised an important C.I.A. operation and jeopardized the life of a spy. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he faced more than 20 years in prison, a calculation with which the Justice Department agreed. Prosecutors sought a “severe” sentence in that range.
Prosecutors maintain that the program was successful, and said Mr. Sterling’s disclosure “was borne not of patriotism but of pure spite.” The Justice Department argued that Mr. Sterling, who is black, had a vendetta against the C.I.A., which he had sued for racial discrimination.
Judge Leonie M. Brinkema gave no indication that she was swayed by the government’s argument that the book had disrupted a crucial operation, or harmed national security. She said she was most bothered that the information revealed in “State of War” had jeopardized the safety of the Russian scientist, who was a C.I.A. informant. Of all the types of secrets kept by American intelligence officers, she said, “This is the most critical secret.”
She said Mr. Sterling had to be punished to send a message to other officials. “If you knowingly reveal these secrets, there’s going to be a price to be paid,” she said.
Mr. Sterling, 47, spoke only briefly to thank the judge and court staff for treating him kindly as the case dragged on for years. Barry J. Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Sterling, said jurors got the verdict wrong when they voted to convict. “That said, the judge today got it right,” he said.
Under federal rules, Mr. Sterling will be eligible for release from prison in just under three years.
The sentence caps a leak investigation that began under President George W. Bush and became a defining case in the Obama administration’s crackdown on government leaks. Under Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department prosecuted more people for having unauthorized discussions with reporters than all prior administrations combined.
For years, Mr. Sterling’s case was known most for the Justice Department’s efforts to force Mr. Risen to reveal his source. At the last minute, under pressure from journalist groups and liberal advocates, Mr. Holder relented and did not force Mr. Risen to choose between revealing his source or going to jail. Prosecutors won the case without Mr. Risen’s testimony.
Since the conviction, the case has been notable because of the stark differences in sentences handed down to leakers. Midlevel people like Mr. Sterling have been charged most aggressively. John C. Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer, served about two years in prison. Two former government contractors, Donald J. Sachtleben and Stephen J. Kim, are serving prison time. Thomas A. Drake, a former National Security Agency official, faced the prospect of years in prison but received a plea deal on a minor charge and avoided serving time after his lawyers won critical rulings before the trial.
By comparison, the F.B.I. investigated a decorated military leader, retired Gen. James E. Cartwright, after public reports described a highly classified wave of American cyberattacks against Iran. But that investigation has stalled because investigators considered the operation too sensitive to discuss at a public trial.
Mr. Petraeus, meanwhile, retains his status as an adviser to the Obama administration despite giving Paula Broadwell, his biographer, who was also his lover, notebooks containing handwritten classified notes about official meetings, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and the names of covert officers. Ms. Broadwell had a security clearance but was not authorized to receive the information.
Mr. Petraeus also admitted lying to the F.B.I., and the leniency of his plea deal infuriated many prosecutors and agents.
In court documents filed in Mr. Sterling’s case, the Justice Department argued that Mr. Petraeus’s crimes were not comparable. “None of this classified information was included in his biography, made public in any other way, or disclosed by his biographer to any third parties.”
Some thoughts for the weekend… listen especially to the first six and a half minutes of this clip below about the conspiracy theories surrounding the recent mysterious death of Dave Goldberg, the husband of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg – the “Facebook-NSA Queen”.
(Above) Photo credit: dailydotcom
Are you wondering why this “problem” (data overload – see article below) did not happen earlier…?
NSA is so overwhelmed with data, it’s no longer effective, says whistleblower
Summary:One of the agency’s first whistleblowers says the NSA is taking in too much data for it to handle, which can have disastrous — if not deadly — consequences.
By Zack Whittaker for Zero Day | April 30, 2015 — 14:29 GMT (22:29 GMT+08:00)
NEW YORK — A former National Security Agency official turned whistleblower has spent almost a decade and a half in civilian life. And he says he’s still “pissed” by what he’s seen leak in the past two years.
In a lunch meeting hosted by Contrast Security founder Jeff Williams on Wednesday, William Binney, a former NSA official who spent more than three decades at the agency, said the US government’s mass surveillance programs have become so engorged with data that they are no longer effective, losing vital intelligence in the fray.
That, he said, can — and has — led to terrorist attacks succeeding.
Binney said that an analyst today can run one simple query across the NSA’s various databases, only to become immediately overloaded with information. With about four billion people — around two-thirds of the world’s population — under the NSA and partner agencies’ watchful eyes, according to his estimates, there is too much data being collected.
“That’s why they couldn’t stop the Boston bombing, or the Paris shootings, because the data was all there,” said Binney. Because the agency isn’t carefully and methodically setting its tools up for smart data collection, that leaves analysts to search for a needle in a haystack.
“The data was all there… the NSA is great at going back over it forensically for years to see what they were doing before that,” he said. “But that doesn’t stop it.”
Binney called this a “bulk data failure” — in that the NSA programs, leaked by Edward Snowden, are collecting too much for the agency to process. He said the problem runs deeper across law enforcement and other federal agencies, like the FBI, the CIA, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which all have access to NSA intelligence.
Binney left the NSA a month after the September 11 attacks in New York City in 2001, days after controversial counter-terrorism legislation was enacted — the Patriot Act — in the wake of the attacks. Binney stands jaded by his experience leaving the shadowy eavesdropping agency, but impassioned for the job he once had. He left after a program he helped develop was scrapped three weeks prior to September 11, replaced by a system he said was more expensive and more intrusive. Snowden said he was inspired by Binney’s case, which in part inspired him to leak thousands of classified documents to journalists.
Since then, the NSA has ramped up its intelligence gathering mission to indiscriminately “collect it all.”
Binney said the NSA is today not as interested in phone records — such as who calls whom, when, and for how long. Although the Obama administration calls the program a “critical national security tool,” the agency is increasingly looking at the content of communications, as the Snowden disclosures have shown.
Binney said he estimated that a “maximum” of 72 companies were participating in the bulk records collection program — including Verizon, but said it was a drop in the ocean. He also called PRISM, the clandestine surveillance program that grabs data from nine named Silicon Valley giants, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, just a “minor part” of the data collection process.
“The Upstream program is where the vast bulk of the information was being collected,” said Binney, talking about how the NSA tapped undersea fiber optic cables. With help from its British counterparts at GCHQ, the NSA is able to “buffer” more than 21 petabytes a day.
Binney said the “collect it all” mantra now may be the norm, but it’s expensive and ineffective.
“If you have to collect everything, there’s an ever increasing need for more and more budget,” he said. “That means you can build your empire.”
They say you never leave the intelligence community. Once you’re a spy, you’re always a spy — it’s a job for life, with few exceptions. One of those is blowing the whistle, which he did. Since then, he has spent his retirement lobbying for change and reform in industry and in Congress.
“They’re taking away half of the constitution in secret,” said Binney. “If they want to change the constitution, there’s a way to do that — and it’s in the constitution.”
An NSA spokesperson did not immediately comment.
(Above) Photo Credit: APA/EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO
It shouldn’t be any surprise if one has been following related news, including an earlier post this week on how the German foreign intelligence agency BND has been supporting NSA spying activities in Europe via a former US espionage base in Bad Aibling. Expect other similar actions against the NSA following the lead by Airbus (see video clip below).
And expect not just a tirade of questions on the German authorities but also the NSA and Obama administration. The NSA massive eavesdropping program was designed solely to protect America against terrorist threats? And nothing to do with industrial corporate espionage? Look who’s talking…
Or better late than never? Check out the article below:
Too little too late? NSA starting to implement ‘Snowden-proof’ cloud storage
Published time: April 14, 2015 10:28
Edited time: April 14, 2015 18:04
The NSA is implementing a huge migration to custom-designed cloud architecture it says will revolutionize internal security and protect against further leaks by data analysts with unfettered access to classified information.
Put simply, the NSA hopes to keep future Edward Snowdens out by employing a cloud file storage system it built from scratch. A major part of the system is that all the data an analyst will have access to will be tagged with new bits of information, including that relating to who can see it. Data won’t even show up on an analyst’s screen if they aren’t authorized to access it, NSA Chief Information Officer Lonny Anderson told NextGov.
The process has been slowly taking place over the last two years following the Snowden leaks. This means any information stored after the fact now comes meta-tagged with the new security privileges, among other things.
The agency has Snowden to thank for expediting a process that was actually started in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in 2001. The idea for storing all information on cloud servers had been in the making, but hadn’t come to fruition until it was too late.
Now it’s moving at an expanded pace to implement something called GovCloud, which is a scaled version of the NSA’s entire universe of mined data. It is set to become pre-installed on the computers of all 16 US intelligence agencies, a move that started with the NSA.
At first glance, the idea appears counter-intuitive. Edward Snowden pretty much used the fact that all the information was in one place to find what he needed and access it.
However, as Anderson explains, “While putting data to the cloud environment potentially gives insiders the opportunity to steal more, by focusing on securing data down at cell level and tagging all the data and the individual, we can actually see what data an individual accesses, what they do with it, and we can see that in real time.”
The agency’s cloud strategist Dave Hurry explained the strategy further: “We don’t let people just see everything; they’re only seeing the data they are authorized to see.”
And if a situation arises where an employee needs access to information that’s off-limits, the program tells them who to ask to get it sorted out.
A further advantage to this is accelerating the analysis of the log data generated when an analyst wants to access particular information. Edward Snowden’s computer history, for some reason, did not set off any alarms until it was too late. That’s because the security logs had to be manually reviewed at a later time, NSA officials told NextGov.
They say this could have been averted with GovCloud, which would immediately raise a red flag if an analyst attempted to “exceed limits of authority.” The agency would have the former analyst in handcuffs before he managed to pack his bags for the airport.
GovCloud isn’t marketing itself as just a security feature that rescues the intelligence agencies from outdated practices and hardware. It is also touted as the answer to privacy advocates, who had a field day with the NSA when it turned out it was indiscriminately mining citizens’ communications.
“We think from a compliance standpoint, moving from a whole mess of stovepipes into a central cloud that has a lot more functionality gives us more capability,” Tom Ardisana, technology directorate compliance officer at NSA, said.
It’s not clear whether the general public will know if the NSA is ‘complying’, but its officials claim that GovCloud is a step in the right direction. Outdated hardware and an over-reliance on data centers built before the shifts in privacy and security policies meant the process of compliance had to be manual and tedious.
“Whenever you bolt on compliance to address a particular issue, there is always a second- and third-order effect for doing that,” Anderson continued. “It’s an extremely manual process. There is risk built in all over that we try to address. The cloud architecture allows us to build those issues in right from the start and in automated fashion address them,” he explained.
In broader terms, the new trend toward automation will also ensure analysts can drastically cut the time they spend on doing a whole plethora of tasks like cross-checking information between databases manually.
“It’s a huge step forward,” Anderson believes, adding how entire agencies – starting with the NSA and the Defense Department – were being transitioned into the new operating environment starting three weeks ago, meaning all their work tools and applications will now also have to be accessed from there.
Other agencies will follow, but for now it’s all about trial periods and seeing how smoothly the system works.
The agency hopes the move toward cloud computing will herald the end of data centers, although whether the system is hacker-proof remains to be seen.
Despite recent reports that Snowden is edging closer to securing Icelandic citizenship, his pal Julian Assange argues that the former NSA contractor is better off staying put in Russia:
Check out the original New York Times story.
(Above) Photo credit: Reuters.
The former US espionage base, Bad Aibling, was supposedly returned to the German foreign intelligence agency BND back in 2004. But that’s what “happened” only on surface. Check out the Spiegel special report below:
Spying Close to Home: German Intelligence Under Fire for NSA Cooperation
US intelligence spent years spying on European targets from a secretive base. Now, it seems that German intelligence was aware of the espionage — and did nothing to stop it.
April 24, 2015 – 07:20 PM
It was obvious from its construction speed just how important the new site in Bavaria was to the Americans. Only four-and-a-half months after it was begun, the new, surveillance-proof building at the Mangfall Kaserne in Bad Aibling was finished. The structure had a metal exterior and no windows, which led to its derogatory nickname among members of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the German foreign intelligence agency: The “tin can.”
The construction project was an expression of an especially close and trusting cooperation between the American National Security Agency (NSA) and the BND. Bad Aibling had formerly been a base for US espionage before it was officially turned over to the BND in 2004. But the “tin can” was built after the handover took place.
The heads of the two intelligence agencies had agreed to continue cooperating there in secret. Together, they established joint working groups, one for the acquisition of data, called Joint Sigint Activity, and one for the analysis of that data, known as the Joint Analysis Center.
But the Germans were apparently not supposed to know everything their partners in the “tin can” were doing. The Americans weren’t just interested in terrorism; they also used their technical abilities to spy on companies and agencies in Western Europe. They didn’t even shy away from pursuing German targets.
The Germans noticed — in 2008, if not sooner. But nothing was done about it until 2013, when an analysis triggered by whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leaks showed that the US was using the facility to spy on German and Western European targets.
On Thursday, though, SPIEGEL ONLINE revealed that the US spying was vastly more extensive than first thought. The revelations have been met with extreme concern in the German capital — partly because they mark the return of a scandal that two successive Merkel administrations have never truly sought to clear up.
It remains unclear how much the BND knew, and to what extent German intelligence was involved, either intentionally or not. More crucially, it demonstrates the gap in trust that exists between two close allies.
The German government will have to quickly come up with answers. It will also have to decide how it will confront Washington about these new accusations. In the past two years, Berlin has made little to no progress in its largely humiliating efforts to get information from Washington.
The issue that could have been cleared up, at least internally, shortly after the NSA scandal began in the summer of 2013. But BND decision-makers chose not to go public with what they knew.
When media reports began emerging that the NSA had scooped up massive amounts of data in Germany and Europe, and that this data surveillance was not being performed exclusively for the global fight against terrorism, BND agents became suspicious. In previous years, BND agents had noticed on several occasions that the so-called “Selector Lists,” that the Germans received from their American partners and which were regularly updated, contained some oddities.
Selectors are targets like IP addresses, mobile phone numbers or email accounts. The BND surveillance system contains hundreds of thousands, possibly more than a million, such targets. Analysts are automatically notified of hits.
In 2008, at the latest, it became apparent that NSA selectors were not only limited to terrorist and weapons smugglers. Their searches also included the European defense company EADS, the helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter and French agencies. But it was only after the revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden that the BND decided to investigate the issue. In October 2013, an investigation came to the conclusion that at least 2,000 of these selectors were aimed at Western European or even German interests.
That would have been a clear violation of the Memorandum of Agreement that the US and Germany signed in 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The agreement pertained to joint, global surveillance operations undertaken from Bad Aibling.
Cease and Desist
Washington and Berlin agreed at the time that neither Germans nor Americans — neither people nor companies or organizations — would be among the surveillance targets. But in October 2013, not even the BND leadership was apparently informed of the violations that had been made. The Chancellery, which is charged with monitoring the BND, was also left in the dark. Instead, the agents turned to the Americans and asked them to cease and desist.
In spring 2014, the NSA investigative committee in German parliament, the Bundestag, began its work. When reports emerged that EADS and Eurocopter had been surveillance targets, the Left Party and the Greens filed an official request to obtain evidence of the violations.
At the BND, the project group charged with supporting the parliamentary investigative committee once again looked at the NSA selectors. In the end, they discovered fully 40,000 suspicious search parameters, including espionage targets in Western European governments and numerous companies. It was this number that SPIEGEL ONLINE reported on Thursday. The BND project group was also able to confirm suspicions that the NSA had systematically violated German interests. They concluded that the Americans could have perpetrated economic espionage directly under the Germans’ noses.
Only on March 12 of this year did the information end up in the Chancellery. Merkel administration officials immediately recognized its political explosiveness and decided to go on the offensive. On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Control Panel met, a body that is in charge of monitoring Germany’s three intelligence agencies. The heads of the agencies normally deliver their reports in the surveillance-proof meeting room U1.214.
Panel members suspected something was different at this week’s meeting when Chancellery head Peter Altmaier, a cabinet-level position in Germany, indicated that he would be attending. The heads of the parliamentary NSA investigative committee were also invited to attend. BND President Gerhard Schindler, however, was asked to stay away. The day after the meeting, the government announced bluntly that Schindler’s office had displayed “technical and organizational deficits.”
Recast in a Different Light
With that, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has some explaining to do. The BND, after all, doesn’t just report to the Chancellery. It has also provided testimony on its activities at Bad Aibling several times to the Parliamentary Control Panel and to the NSA investigative committee. That testimony now appears in a different light.
According to a classified memo, the agency told parliamentarians in 2013 that the cooperation with the US in Bad Aibling was consistent with the law and with the strict guidelines that had been established.
The memo notes: “The value for the BND (lies) in know-how benefits and in a closer partnership with the NSA relative to other partners.” The data provided by the US, the memo continued, “is checked for its conformance with the agreed guidelines before it is inputted” into the BND system.
Now, we know better. It remains to be determined whether the BND really was unaware at the time, or whether it simply did not want to be aware.
The NSA investigative committee has also questioned former and active BND agents regarding “selectors” and “search criteria” on several occasions. Prior to the beginning of each session, the agents were informed that providing false testimony to the body was unlawful. The BND agents repeatedly insisted that the selectors provided by the US were precisely checked.
A senior analyst from the department responsible, known as “Signals Intelligence,” testified in March that BND lawyers would check “each individual search term” and “each individual selector” to ensure that it conformed with the Memorandum of Agreement. That didn’t just apply to government officials and German companies, he said, but to Europeans more broadly.
‘Prosecutors Must Investigate’
“Sneaking in” such search terms would “become apparent” in such a long-term operation, the witness said. “To try, over all these years, to sneak selectors by us to perpetrate economic espionage, I don’t think that is possible,” the witness said. He added: “We never noticed such a thing.”
Members of the NSA investigative committee now feel that they have been lied to, and the reactions have been harsh. “At least since the Snowden revelations in 2013, all those involved at all levels, including the Chancellery, should have been suspicious of the cooperation with the NSA,” says Konstantin von Notz, the senior Green Party member on the investigative committee.
“The spying scandal shows that the intelligence agencies have a life of their own and are uncontrollable,” says the senior Left Party representative Martina Renner. “There have to be personnel consequences and German public prosecutors must investigate.”
But as of late Thursday, the German government hadn’t even informed the public prosecutor’s office of the incident.
By Maik Baumgärtner, Nikolaus Blome, Hubert Gude, Marcel Rosenbach, Jörg Schindler and Fidelius Schmid
Check out this video by the Anonymous:
House of Representatives Passes Cybersecurity Bills Without Fixing Core Problems
April 22, 2015 | By Mark Jaycox
The House passed two cybersecurity “information sharing” bills today: the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s Protecting Cyber Networks Act, and the House Homeland Security Committee’s National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act. Both bills will be “conferenced” to create one bill and then sent to the Senate for advancement. EFF opposed both bills and has been urging users to tell Congress to vote against them.
The bills are not cybersecurity “information sharing” bills, but surveillance bills in disguise. Like other bills we’ve opposed during the last five years, they authorize more private sector spying under new legal immunity provisions and use vague definitions that aren’t carefully limited to protect privacy. The bills further facilitate companies’ sharing even more of our personal information with the NSA and some even allow companies to “hack back” against potentially innocent users.
As we’ve noted before, information sharing is not a silver bullet to stopping security failures. Companies can already share the necessary technical information to stop threats via Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), public reports, private communications, and the DHS’s Enhanced Cybersecurity Services.
While we are disappointed in the House, we look forward to the fight in the Senate where equally dangerous bills, like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, have failed to pass every year since 2010.
Contact your Senator now to oppose the Senate bills.
Time to brace up for further loss of privacy as the PCNA would amount to voluntary wholesale transfer of data to the NSA (see story below).
And the Congress actually believe it’s in the name of stopping hackers and cyber attacks?
House Passes Cybersecurity Bill Despite Privacy Protests
Congress is hellbent on passing a cybersecurity bill that can stop the wave of hacker breaches hitting American corporations. And they’re not letting the protests of a few dozen privacy and civil liberties organizations get in their way.
On Wednesday the House of Representatives voted 307-116 to pass the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, a bill designed to allow more fluid sharing of cybersecurity threat data between corporations and government agencies. That new system for sharing information is designed to act as a real-time immune system against hacker attacks, allowing companies to warn one another via government intermediaries about the tools and techniques of advanced hackers. But privacy critics say it also threatens to open up a new backchannel for surveillance of American citizens, in some cases granting the same companies legal immunity to share their users’ private data with government agencies that include the NSA.
“PCNA would significantly increase the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) access to personal information, and authorize the federal government to use that information for a myriad of purposes unrelated to cybersecurity,” reads a letter signed earlier this week by 55 civil liberties groups and security experts that includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Human Rights Watch and many others.
“The revelations of the past two years concerning the intelligence community’s abuses of surveillance authorities and the scope of its collection and use of individuals’ information demonstrates the potential for government overreach, particularly when statutory language is broad or ambiguous,” the letter continues. “[PCNA] fails to provide strong privacy protections or adequate clarity about what actions can be taken, what information can be shared, and how that information may be used by the government.”
Specifically, PCNA’s data-sharing privileges let companies give data to government agencies—including the NSA—that might otherwise have violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act or the Wiretap Act, both of which restrict the sharing of users’ private data with the government. And PCNA doesn’t even restrict the use of that shared information to cybersecurity purposes; its text also allows the information to be used for investigating any potential threat of “bodily harm or death,” opening its application to the surveillance of run-of-the-mill violent crimes like robbery and carjacking.
Congressman Adam Schiff, who led the advocacy for the bill on the House floor, argued in a statement to reporters that PCNA in fact supports privacy by protecting Americans from future hacker breaches. “We do this while recognizing the huge and growing threat cyber hacking and cyber espionage poses to our privacy, as well as to our financial wellbeing and our jobs,” he writes.
“In the process of drafting this bill, protecting privacy was at the forefront throughout, and we consulted extensively with privacy and civil liberties groups, incorporating their suggestions in many cases. This is a strong bill that protects privacy, and one that I expect will get even better as the process goes forward—we expect to see large bipartisan support on the Floor.”
Here’s a video [above] of Schiff’s statement on the House floor.
PCNA does include some significant privacy safeguards, such as a requirement that companies scrub “unrelated” data of personally identifying information before sending it to the government, and that the government agencies pass it through another filter to delete such data after receiving it.
But those protections still don’t go far enough, says Robyn Greene, policy counsel for the Open Technology Institute. Any information considered a “threat indicator” could still legally be sent to the government—even, for instance, IP address innocent victims of botnets used in distributed denial of service attacks against corporate websites. No further amendments that might have added new privacy restrictions to the bill were considered before the House’s vote Wednesday. “I’m very disappointed that the house has passed an information sharing bill that does so much to threaten Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, and no real effort was made to address the problems the bill still had,” says Greene. “The rules committee has excluded amendments that would have resolved privacy concerns…This is little more than a backdoor for general purpose surveillance.”
In a surprise move yesterday, the White House also publicly backed PCNA and its Senate counterpart, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act in a statement to press. That’s a reversal of its threat to veto a similar Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Ac in 2013 over privacy concerns, a decision that all but killed the earlier attempt at cybersecurity data sharing legislation. Since then, however, a string of high-profile breaches seems to have swayed President Obama’s thinking, from the cybercriminal breaches of Target and health insurer Anthem that spilled millions of users’ data, to the devastating hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the FBI has claimed was perpetrated as an intimidation tactic by the North Korean government to prevent the release of its Kim Jong-un assassination comedy the Interview.
If the White House’s support stands, it now leaves only an upcoming Senate vote sometime later this month on the Senate’s CISA as the deciding factor as to whether it and PCNA are combined to become law.
But privacy advocates haven’t given up on a presidential veto. A new website called StopCyberspying.com launched by the internet freedom group Access, along with the EFF, the ACLU and others, includes a petition to the President to reconsider a veto for PCNA, CISA and any other bill that threatens to widen internet surveillance.
OTI’s Greene says she’s still banking on a change of heart from Obama, too. “We’re hopeful that the administration would veto any bill that doesn’t address these issues,” she says. “To sign a bill that resembles CISA or PCNA would represent the administration doing a complete 180 on its commitment to protect Americans’ privacy.”
This story (below) gives a whole new meaning to the phrase No News is Good News:
The most popular news sites can be used to spy on you, research shows
Cale Guthrie Weissman
Over a year ago it was discovered that government surveillance programs can use digital ad tracking software to keep tabs on Internet users. Now it appears more widespread than most thought.
In fact, 100 popular news sites were found to be susceptible to security issues that could help spies learn about what websites you browse and the data you share.
The fact that the government uses ad tracking software to surveil citizens isn’t necessarily new, but recently published research shows just how widespread the issue is.
This is in the wake of the one the top ad organisations publically saying that the majority of its ad tracking programs are safe and secure. The truth is that almost half of the software used by the most popular global news websites are unsecure and provide an easy way for governments to snoop, according to the new research.
A Toronto-based researcher named Andrew Hilts performed his own audit of the 100 top media sites to see how secure data exchange really was. Hilt is a fellow at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, as well as the executive director of the nonprofit Open Effect.
Hilt decided to check out if ad trackers — third-party ad software that sends and receives data — were encrypted. If the trackers were found to be unencrypted, it meant that personal data was in plain sight and easy to hack. (In essence, ad trackers leave cookies on users’ browsers, which are used to remember information such as personal preferences and previous logins. If this data is not protected it’s ripe for the taking.)
Of the pages Hilt loaded, he discovered 47 different third parties that were transmitting data to and from the sites. Of those third parties, 19 of them left what’s called a “unique identifier.” Hilt explained to me that unique identifiers are basically used to compile “a profile of who you are and what you’re interested in.”
Now this is the important, albeit slightly complicated, part of Hilt’s analysis:
An average of 53% of the third party hosts transmitting data on top news websites support HTTPS. News websites, on average, initiated communications with 10 different third parties that led to transmissions of uniquely identifying cookies that could not be secured with HTTPS. An average of 9 unique ID transmissions were to servers that support HTTPS. In other words, network snoops can take advantage of many insecurely-transmitted unique identifiers to help them identify just who is reading what news.
In laymen terms this means that on average nearly half of all third-party data transfers happening on the most popular news websites are unencrypted. Hilt explained to me the ramifications: “If an ad tracking system is being done unencrypted, other actors like your ISP or the NSA can collected this data,” he said.
Looking at the analysis, you can see that websites like the New York Post and the Economist transmit myriad data through third parties. Both of which, according to his chart, transmit well over 20 unencrypted identifiers that could be used by hackers.
The discoveries began in 2013. One of the many Snowden documents described a program that “piggybacked” on internet advertising technologies, using ad tracking technology to keep tabs on people of interest. The NSA discovered a handy loophole; many trackers are unencrypted. Thus, the NSA could easily tap into a website’s data exchange and also collect the traffic data of users.
More than a year after this initial revelation the Internet Advertising Bureau wrote a blog post calling for more widespread ad tracker encryption. This organisation called for all ad companies to support the encrypted HTTPS protocol — even the ad trackers. A website that uses the HTTPS protocol communicates encrypted data, which makes external snooping much harder to do.
The problem is that all parts of the website need to use HTTPS, not just the website itself. So if a news organisation uses third-party ad software that doesn’t use HTTPS, the website could very easily be tapped by spies. That’s why the IAB called for more data security.
“Once a website decides to support HTTPS,” the IAB wrote, “they need to make sure that their primary ad server supports encryption.” This way a user can be sure that all information exchanged on the page is secure and invisible to any unwanted eyes. The IAB added in its post that “nearly 80% of [its] members ad delivery systems supported HTTPS.”
Hilt’s findings show that this may not be the case.
Privacy advocates freaked out yesterday over Hilt’s findings. “A dubious congratulations to the St Louis Post-Dispatch, topping the news charts with 168 tracking URLs per page load,” tweeted Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins.
While the IAB’s message to advertisers is a step in the right direction, the fact that it doesn’t seem aware of how prevalent unencrypted tracking is means there’s a huge problem. In order for a website to truly ensure that its users aren’t being tracked by unknown third parties, it must ensure that both it and all of its third parties are communicating using HTTPS.
Hilt said the he’s happy the IAB is working to correct this issue, but it also needs to be aware of the work that needs to be done.
“The findings show they still have a ways to go,” he said.
Here’s an insight to one man at Google to keep tab on – see the article below.
New Google security chief looks for balance with privacy
By GLENN CHAPMAN, AFP April 19, 2015 4:55am
MOUNTAIN VIEW, United States – Google has a new sheriff keeping watch over the wilds of the Internet.
Austrian-born Gerhard Eschelbeck has ranged the British city of Oxford; cavorted at notorious Def Con hacker conclaves, wrangled a herd of startups, and camped out in Silicon Valley.
He now holds the reins of security and privacy for all-things Google.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, Eschelbeck spoke of using Google’s massive scope to protect users from cyber villains such as spammers and state-sponsored spies.
“The size of our computing infrastructure allows us to process, analyze, and research the changing threat landscape and look ahead to predict what is coming,” Eschelbeck said during his first one-on-one press interview in his new post.
“Security is obviously a constant race; the key is how far can you look ahead.”
Eschelbeck took charge of Google’s 500-strong security and privacy team early this year, returning to Silicon Valley after running engineering for a computer security company in Oxford for two years.
“It was a very natural move for me to join Google,” Eschelbeck said. “What really excited me was doing security at large scale.”
Google’s range of global services and products means there are many fronts for a security expert to defend. Google’s size also means there are arsenals of powerful computer servers for defenders to employ and large-scale data from which to discern cyber dangers.
Eschelbeck’s career in security stretches back two decades to a startup he built while a university student in Austria that was acquired by security company McAfee.
What started out as a six-month work stint in California where McAfee is based turned into a 15-year stay by Eschelbeck.
He created and advised an array of computer security startups before heading off to Oxford. Eschelbeck, has worked at computer technology titans such as Sophos and Qualys, and holds patents for network security technologies.
He was confident his team was up to the challenge of fending off cyber attacks, even from onslaughts of sophisticated operations run by the likes of the US National Security Agency or the Chinese military.
Eschelbeck vowed that he would “absolutely” find any hacker that came after his network.
“As a security guy, I am never comfortable,” he said. “But, I do have a very strong team…I have confidence we have the right reactive and proactive defense mechanisms as well.”
State-sponsored cyber attacks making news in the past year come on top of well-known trends of hacking expressly for fun or profit.
The sheer numbers of attack “vectors” has rocketed exponentially over time, with weapons targeting smartphones, applications, datacenters, operating systems and more.
“You can safely assume that every property on the Internet is continuously under attack,” Eschelbeck said.
“I feel really strong about our ability to identify them before they become a threat and the ability to block and prevent them from entering our environment.”
Eschelbeck is a backer of encrypting data, whether it be an email to a friend or photos stored in the cloud.
“I hope for a time when all the traffic on the Internet is encrypted,” he said.
“You’re not sending a letter to your friend in a transparent envelop, and that is why encryption in transport is so critical.”
He believes that within five years, accessing accounts with no more than passwords will be a thing of the past.
Google lets people require code numbers sent to phones be used along with passwords to access accounts in what is referred to as “two-factor” authentication.
The Internet titan also provides “safe browsing” technology that warns people when they are heading to websites rigged to attack visitors.
Google identifies about 50,000 malicious websites monthly, and another 90,000 phishing websites designed to trick people into giving up their passwords or other valuable personal information, Eschelbeck said.
“We have some really great visibility into the Web, as you can imagine,” he said.
“The time for us to recognize a bad site is incredibly short.”
Doubling-down on privacy
Eschelbeck saw the world of online security as fairly black and white, while the privacy side of his job required subjective interpretations.
Google works closely with data protection authorities in Europe and elsewhere to try and harmonize privacy protections with the standards in various countries.
“I really believe that with security and privacy, there is more overlap than there are differences,” he said.
“We have made a tremendous effort to focus and double-down on privacy issues.”
As have other large Internet companies, Google has routinely made public requests by government agencies for information about users.
Requests are carefully reviewed, and only about 65 percent of them satisfied, according to Google.
“Privacy, to me, is protecting and securing my activities; that they are personal to myself and not visible to the whole wide world,” Eschelbeck said. — Agence France-Presse
The Intercept has revealed how New Zealand has teamed up with the NSA to eavesdrop on China, its largest trading partner (see article below).
This is not the first time New Zealand has been pulled into the equation about mass surveillance and the NSA. Just a month ago, New Zealand was also accused of spying on its neighbors in the Pacific islands (see video below).
New Zealand Plotted Hack on China With NSA
By Ryan Gallagher and Nicky Hager
New Zealand spies teamed with National Security Agency hackers to break into a data link in the country’s largest city, Auckland, as part of a secret plan to eavesdrop on Chinese diplomats, documents reveal.
The covert operation, reported Saturday by New Zealand’s Herald on Sunday in collaboration with The Intercept, highlights the contrast between New Zealand’s public and secret approaches to its relationship with China, its largest and most important trading partner.
The hacking project suggests that New Zealand’s electronic surveillance agency, Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, may have violated international treaties that prohibit the interception of diplomatic communications.
New Zealand has signed both the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, international treaties that protect the “inviolability” of diplomatic correspondance. The country’s prime minister, John Key, said in a recent speech on security that New Zealand had an obligation to support the rule of law internationally, and was “known for its integrity, reliability and independence.”
Last year, Key said that New Zealand’s relationship with China, worth an estimated $15 billion in annual two-way trade, had “never been stronger.” The relationship was not just about “purely trading,” he said, “it is so much broader and much deeper than that.”
In 2013, Key described a meeting with top Chinese officials in Beijing as “extremely warm” and told of how he was viewed as a “real friend” by the country’s premier, Li Keqiang.
At the same time, as minister in charge of the GCSB, Key was overseeing spying against China – which included the top-secret planned operation in Auckland, aimed at the Chinese consulate.
The hacking project is outlined in documents obtained by The Intercept from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A secret report called “NSA activities in progress 2013,” includes an item titled “New Zealand: Joint effort to exploit Chinese MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] link.” The operation, according to another NSA document, had “identified an MFA data link between the Chinese consulate and Chinese Visa Office in Auckland,” two buildings about a five-minute walk apart on the city’s busy Great South Road.
The document added that the New Zealand agency was “providing additional technical data” on the data link to the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations, a powerful unit that hacks into computer systems and networks to intercept communications. The agencies had “verbally agreed to move forward with a cooperative passive and active effort against this link,” it said.
Passive surveillance refers to a method of eavesdropping on communications that intercepts them as they are flowing over Internet cables, between satellites, or across phone networks. Active surveillance is a more aggressive tactic that involves hacking into computers; in the case of the Auckland operation, active surveillance could have involved planting spyware in the Chinese government computers or routers connected via the consulate data link.
The documents do not reveal whether the operation was successfully completed, due to the timeframe that the records cover. In May 2013, Snowden left his Hawaii-based intelligence job and flew to Hong Kong carrying the cache of secret files. In April 2013, shortly before Snowden’s departure, “formal coordination” on the hacking plan had begun between the NSA and its New Zealand counterpart, according to the documents.
More New Zealand operations targeting China appear to have been ongoing at that time. In another April 2013 NSA document describing the agency’s relationship with New Zealand spies, under the heading “What partner provides to NSA,” the first item on the list is “collection on China.” New Zealand’s GCSB surveillance agency “continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries that are difficult for the United States to access,” the report said.
China intelligence is handled inside the New Zealand agency by a special section that focuses on economic analysis. According to sources with knowledge of the agency’s operations, its economic section, known as the “IBE,” specialised in Japanese diplomatic communications from 1981 until the late 2000s. In recent years its focus has shifted to intercepted Chinese communications, the sources say.
In response to the revelations, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in New Zealand told the Herald on Sunday that the country was “concerned” about the spying. “We attach great importance to the cyber security issue,” the spokesman said, adding that “China proposes to settle disputes through dialogue and formulate codes to regulate cyber space behaviors that are acceptable to all sides.”
China itself is known to be a major perpetrator of espionage on the global stage, and it has been repeatedly accused by the U.S. government of hacking into American computer networks. Last year, China was linked to an apparent intelligence-gathering hack on a powerful New Zealand supercomputer used to conduct weather and climate research.
But the Snowden documents have shown that countries in the so-called “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance – which includes New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia – are also heavily involved in conducting aggressive spying and hacking operations across the world.
Previous revelations have detailed how agencies in the alliance have hacked law-abiding companies, foreign government computers, and designed technology to attack and destroy infrastructure using cyberwar techniques. Last year, The Intercept revealed how the NSA had developed the capability to deploy millions of malware “implants” to infect computers and steal data on a large scale.
The NSA, the GCSB and the New Zealand prime minister’s office each declined to answer questions about this story.
GCSB’s acting director, Una Jagose, said in an emailed statement that the agency “exists to protect New Zealand and New Zealanders.” She added: “We have a foreign intelligence mandate. We don’t comment on speculation about matters that may or may not be operational. Everything we do is explicitly authorised and subject to independent oversight.”
Here’s an interesting story:
Meet the privacy activists who spy on the surveillance industry
by Daniel Rivero | April 6, 2015
LONDON– On the second floor of a narrow brick building in the London Borough of Islington, Edin Omanovic is busy creating a fake company. He is playing with the invented company’s business cards in a graphic design program, darkening the reds, bolding the blacks, and testing fonts to strike the right tone: informational, ambiguous, no bells and whistles. In a separate window, a barren website is starting to take shape. Omanovic, a tall, slender Bosnian-born, Scottish-raised Londonite gives the company a fake address that forwards to his real office, and plops in a red and black company logo he just created. The privacy activist doesn’t plan to scam anyone out of money, though he does want to learn their secrets. Ultimately, he hopes that the business cards combined with a suit and a close-cropped haircut will grant him access to a surveillance industry trade show, a privilege usually restricted to government officials and law enforcement agencies.
Once he’s infiltrated the trade show, he’ll pose as an industry insider, chatting up company representatives, swapping business cards, and picking up shiny brochures that advertise the invasive capabilities of bleeding-edge surveillance technology. Few of the features are ever marketed or revealed openly to the general public, and if the group didn’t go through the pains of going undercover, it wouldn’t know the lengths to which law enforcement and the intelligence community are going to keep tabs on their citizens.
“I don’t know when we’ll get to use this [company], but we need a lot of these to do our research,” Omanovic tells me. (He asked Fusion not to reveal the name of the company in order to not blow its cover.)
The strange tactic– hacking into an expo in order to come into close proximity with government hackers and monitors– is a regular part of operations at Privacy International, a London-based anti-surveillance advocacy group founded 25 years ago. Omanovic is one of a few activists for the group who goes undercover to collect the surveillance promotional documents.
“At last count we had about 1,400 files,” Matt Rice, PI’s Scottish-born advocacy officer says while sifting through a file cabinet full of the brochures. “[The files] help us understand what these companies are capable of, and what’s being sold around the world,” he says. The brochures vary in scope and claims. Some showcase cell site simulators, commonly called Stingrays, which allow police to intercept cell phone activity within a certain area. Others provide details about Finfisher– surveillance software that is marketed exclusively to governments, which allows officials to put spyware on a target’s home computer or mobile device to watch their Skype calls, Facebook and email activity.
The technology buyers at these conferences are the usual suspects — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service– but also representatives of repressive regimes —Bahrain, Sudan, pre-revolutionary Libya– as the group has revealed in attendees lists it has surfaced.
At times, companies’ claims can raise eyebrows. One brochure shows a soldier, draped in fatigues, holding a portable device up to the faces of a somber group of Arabs. “Innocent civilian or insurgent?,” the pamphlet asks.
“Our systems are.”
The treasure trove of compiled documents was available as an online database, but PI recently took it offline, saying the website had security vulnerabilities that could have compromised information of anyone who wanted to donate to the organization online. They are building a new one. The group hopes that the exposure of what Western companies are selling to foreign governments will help the organization achieve its larger goal: ending the sale of hardware and software to governments that use it to monitor their populations in ways that violate basic privacy rights.
The group acknowledges that it might seem they are taking an extremist position when it comes to privacy, but “we’re not against surveillance,” Michael Rispoli, head of PI’s communications, tells me. “Governments need to keep people safe, whether it’s from criminals or terrorists or what it may be, but surveillance needs to be done in accordance with human rights, and in accordance with the rule of law.”
The group is waging its fight in courtrooms. In February of last year, it filed a criminal complaint to the UK’s National Cyber Crime Unit of the National Crime Agency, asking it to investigate British technology allegedly used repeatedly by the Ethiopian government to intercept the communications of an Ethiopian national. Even after Tadesse Kersmo applied for– and was granted– asylum in the UK on the basis of being a political refugee, the Ethiopian government kept electronically spying on him, the group says, using technology from British firm Gamma International. The group currently has six lawsuits in action, mostly taking on large, yet opaque surveillance companies and the British government. Gamma International did not respond to Fusion’s request for comment on the lawsuit, which alleges that exporting the software to Ethiopian authorities means the company assisted in illegal electronic spying.
“The irony that he was given refugee status here, while a British company is facilitating intrusions into his basic right to privacy isn’t just ironic, it’s wrong,” Rispoli says. “It’s so obvious that there should be laws in place to prevent it.”
PI says it has uncovered other questionable business relationships between oppressive regimes and technology companies based in other Western countries. An investigative report the group put out a few months ago on surveillance in Central Asia said that British and Swiss companies, along with Israeli and Israeli-American companies with close ties to the Israeli military, are providing surveillance infrastructure and technical support to countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan– some of the worst-ranking countries in the world when it comes to freedom of speech, according to Freedom House. Only North Korea ranks lower than them.
PI says it used confidential sources, whose accounts have been corroborated, to reach those conclusions.
Not only are these companies complicit in human rights violations, the Central Asia report alleges, but they know they are. Fusion reached out to the companies named in the report, NICE Systems (Israel), Verint Israel (U.S./ Israel), Gamma (UK), or Dreamlab (Switzerland), and none have responded to repeated requests for comment.
The report is a “blueprint” for the future of the organization’s output, says Rice, the advocacy officer. “It’s the first time we’ve done something that really looks at the infrastructure, the laws, and putting it all together to get a view on how the system actually works in a country, or even a whole region,” says Rice.
“What we can do is take that [report], and have specific findings and testimonials to present to companies, to different bodies and parliamentarians, and say this is why we need these things addressed,” adds Omanovic, the researcher and fake company designer.
The tactic is starting to show signs of progress, he says. One afternoon, Omanovic was huddled over a table in the back room, taking part in what looked like an intense conference call. “European Commission,” he says afterwards. The Commission has been looking at surveillance exports since it was revealed that Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain were using European tech to crack down on protesters during the Arab Spring, he added. Now, PI is consulting with some members, and together they “hope to bring in a regulation specifically on this subject by year’s end.”
Privacy International has come a long way from the “sterile bar of an anonymous business hotel in Luxembourg,” where founder Simon Davies, then a lone wolf privacy campaigner, hosted its first meeting with a handful of people 25 years ago. In a blog post commemorating that anniversary, Davies (who left the organization about five years ago) described the general state of privacy advocacy when that first meeting was held:
“Those were strange times. Privacy was an arcane subject that was on very few radar screens. The Internet had barely emerged, digital telephony was just beginning, the NSA was just a conspiracy theory and email was almost non-existent (we called it electronic mail back then). We communicated by fax machines, snail mail – and through actual real face to face meetings that you travelled thousands of miles to attend.”
Immediately, there were disagreements about the scope of issues the organization should focus on, as detailed in the group’s first report, filed in 1991. Some of the group’s 120-odd loosely affiliated members and advisors wanted the organization to focus on small privacy flare-ups; others wanted it to take on huge, international privacy policies, from “transborder data flows” to medical research. Disputes arose as to what “privacy” actually meant at the time. It took years for the group to narrow down the scope of its mandate to something manageable and coherent.
Gus Hosein, current executive director, describes the 90’s as a time when the organization “just knew that it was fighting against something.” He became part of the loose collective in 1996, three days after moving to the UK from New Haven, Connecticut, thanks to a chance encounter with Davies at the London Economics School. For the first thirteen years he worked with PI, he says, the group’s headquarters was the school pub.
They were fighting then some of the same battles that are back in the news cycle today, such as the U.S. government wanting to ban encryption, calling it a tool for criminals to hide their communications from law enforcement. “[We were] fighting against the Clinton Administration and its cryptography policy, fighting against new intersections of law, or proposals in countries X, Y and Z, and almost every day you would find something to fight around,” he says.
Just as privacy issues stemming from the dot com boom were starting to stabilize, 9/11 happened. That’s when Hosein says “the shit hit the fan.”
In the immediate wake of that tragedy, Washington pushed through the Patriot Act and the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, setting an international precedent of invasive pat-downs and extensive monitoring in the name of anti-terrorism. Hosein, being an American, followed the laws closely, and the group started issuing criticism of what it considered unreasonable searches. In the UK, a public debate about issuing national identification cards sprung up. PI fought it vehemently.
“All of a sudden we’re being called upon to respond to core policy-making in Western governments, so whereas policy and surveillance were often left to some tech expert within the Department of Justice or whatever, now it had gone to mainstream policy,” he says. “We were overwhelmed because we were still just a ragtag bunch of people trying to fight fights without funding, and we were taking on the might of the executive arm of government.”
The era was marked by a collective struggle to catch up. “I don’t think anyone had any real successes in that era,” Hosein says.
But around 2008, the group’s advocacy work in India, Thailand and the Philippines started to gain the attention of donors, and the team decided it was time to organize. The three staff members then started the formal process of becoming a charity, after being registered as a corporation for ten years. By the time it got its first office in 2011 (around the time its founder, Davies, walked away to pursue other ventures) the Arab Spring was dominating international headlines.
“With the Arab Spring and the rise of attention to human rights and technology, that’s when PI actually started to realize our vision, and become an organization that could grow,” Hosein says. “Four years ago we had three employees, and now we have 16 people,” he says with a hint of pride.
“This is a real vindication for [Edward] Snowden,” Eric King, PI’s deputy director says about one of the organization’s recent legal victories over the UK’s foremost digital spy agency, known as the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ.
PI used the documents made public by Snowden to get the British court that oversees GCHQ to determine that all intelligence sharing between GCHQ and the National Security Administration (NSA) was illegal up until December 2014. Ironically, the court went on to say that the sharing was only illegal because of lack of public disclosure of the program. Now that details of the program were made public thanks to the lawsuit, the court said, the operation is now legal and GCHQ can keep doing what it was doing.
“It’s like they’re creating the law on the fly,” King says. “[The UK government] is knowingly breaking the law and then retroactively justifying themselves. Even though we got the court to admit this whole program was illegal, the things they’re saying now are wholly inadequate to protect our privacy in this country.”
Nevertheless, it was a “highly significant ruling,” says Elizabeth Knight, Legal Director of fellow UK-based civil liberties organization Open Rights Group. “It was the first time the [courts have] found the UK’s intelligence services to be in breach of human rights law,” she says. “The ruling is a welcome first step towards demonstrating that the UK government’s surveillance practices breach human rights law.”
In an email, a GCHQ spokesperson downplayed the significance of the ruling, saying that PI only won the case in one respect: on a “transparency issue,” rather than on the substance of the data sharing program. “The rulings re-affirm that the processes and safeguards within these regimes were fully adequate at all times, so we have not therefore needed to make any changes to policy or practice as a result of the judgement,” the spokesperson says.
Before coming on board four years ago, King, a 25-year old Wales native, worked at Reprieve, a non-profit that provides legal support to prisoners. Some of its clients are at Guantanamo Bay and other off-the-grid prisons, something that made him mindful of security concerns when the group was communicating with clients. King worried that every time he made a call to his clients, they were being monitored. “No one could answer those questions, and that’s what got me going on this,” says King.
Right now, he tells me, most of the group’s legal actions have to do with fighting the “Five Eyes”– the nickname given to the intertwined intelligence networks of the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand. One of the campaigns, stemming from the lawsuit against GCHQ that established a need for transparency, is asking GCHQ to confirm if the agency illegally collected information about the people who signed a “Did the GCHQ Illegally Spy On You?” petition. So far, 10,000 people have signed up to be told whether their communications or online activity were collected by the UK spy agency when it conducted mass surveillance of the Internet. If a court actually forces GCHQ to confirm whether those individuals were spied on, PI will then ask that all retrieved data be deleted from the database.
“It’s such an important campaign not only because people have the right to know, but it’s going to bring it home to people and politicians that regular, everyday people are caught up in this international scandal,” King says. “You don’t even have to be British to be caught up in it. People all over the world are being tracked in that program.”
Eerke Boiten, a senior lecturer at the interdisciplinary Cyber Security Centre at the University of Kent, says that considering recent legal victories, he can’t write off the effort, even if he would have dismissed it just a year ago.
“We have now finally seen some breakthroughs in transparency in response to Snowden, and the sense that intelligence oversight needs an overhaul is increasing,” he wrote in an email to me. “So although the [British government] will do its best to shore up the GCHQ legal position to ensure it doesn’t need to respond to this, their job will be harder than before.”
“Privacy International have a recent record of pushing the right legal buttons,” he says. “They may win again.”
A GCHQ spokesperson says that the agency will “of course comply with any direction or order” a court might give it, stemming from the campaign.
King is also the head of PI’s research arm– organizing in-depth investigations into national surveillance ecosystems, in tandem with partner groups in countries around the world. The partners hail from places as disparate as Kenya and Mexico. One recently released report features testimonials from people who reported being heavily surveilled in Morocco. Another coming out of Colombia will be more of an “exposé,” with previously unreported details on surveillance in that country, he says.
And then there’s the stuff that King pioneered: the method of sneaking into industry conferences by using a shadow company. He developed the technique Omanovic is using. King can’t go to the conferences undercover anymore because his face is now too well known. When asked why he started sneaking into the shows, he says: “Law enforcement doesn’t like talking about [surveillance]. Governments don’t talk about it. And for the most part our engagement with companies is limited to when we sue them,” he laughs.
When it comes to the surveillance field, you would be hard pressed to find a company that does exactly what it says it does, King tells me. So when he or someone else at PI sets up a fake company, they expect to get about as much scrutiny as the next ambiguous, potentially official organization that lines up behind them.
Collectively, PI has been blacklisted and been led out of a few conferences over the past four years they have been doing this, he estimates.
“If we have to navigate some spooky places to get what we need, then that’s what we’ll do,” he says. Sometimes you have to walk through a dark room to turn on a light. Privacy International sees a world with a lot of dark rooms.
“Being shadowy is acceptable in this world.”
No arrest yet but the good news is that the US and Europe have, via the FBI and Europol’s European Cybercrime Center, dismantled on Wednesday a network of as many as 12,000 computers that cyber-criminals used to elude security firms and law enforcement agencies for some years. Check out the video clip and Bloomberg article below.
Meanwhile, recall yesterday’s blog on data breach and the 22 countries where stolen data were most frequently accessed.
Police Shut Europe Computer Network Enabling Theft, Extortion
by Cornelius RahnChris Strohm
European and U.S. police shut down a computer network on Wednesday used by cybercriminals to facilitate the theft of banking passwords and extortion which had eluded security companies and law enforcement for years.
Agents of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the European Cybercrime Center seized servers across Europe that had been responsible for spreading malware on thousands of mainly U.S.-based victim computers, said Raj Samani, chief technology officer for Intel Corp.’s security unit in the region, which helped prepare the takedown.
Governments are responding to increasing frequency and impact of online attacks by setting up dedicated cybercrime units and working with security-software companies to weed out threats before more damage is done. The network functioned as a portal offered by criminals to others seeking to spread their own malware, according to Paul Gillen, head of operations at Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre.
“If that carried on in earnest, it had great potential from a criminal perspective,” Gillen said. “People set up infrastructure like that and rent it out to others, saying ‘here are a lot of infected computers so you can upload all your banking malware or other things on them.’”
FBI and Europol said there had been no arrests yet as it was too early to say who the perpetrators were, or what damage the malware had caused. Police will now sift through the data gained from the seized machines before notifying victims and determining the culprits, according to Gillen.
The malicious code, labeled W32/Worm-AAEH, was first detected in 2009 but was difficult to weed out because it changed its shape as many as six times a day, Intel’s Samani said. The worm had evolved capabilities such as shutting down connections with servers from antivirus companies and disabling tools that could terminate it, he said.
Even after the control servers are no longer available to the criminals to morph existing pieces of malware, users must still clean up their machines. Computer owners can stop the software’s core function by setting rules that prevent new software from running automatically and shutting certain ports, Intel said.
Photo (above) credit: http://www.freakingnews.com
Here’s a breaking news (below) from the CNN:
How the U.S. thinks Russians hacked the White House
By Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz, CNN
Updated 0037 GMT (0737 HKT) April 8, 2015
Washington (CNN)Russian hackers behind the damaging cyber intrusion of the State Department in recent months used that perch to penetrate sensitive parts of the White House computer system, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.
While the White House has said the breach only affected an unclassified system, that description belies the seriousness of the intrusion. The hackers had access to sensitive information such as real-time non-public details of the president’s schedule. While such information is not classified, it is still highly sensitive and prized by foreign intelligence agencies, U.S. officials say.
The White House in October said it noticed suspicious activity in the unclassified network that serves the executive office of the president. The system has been shut down periodically to allow for security upgrades.
The FBI, Secret Service and U.S. intelligence agencies are all involved in investigating the breach, which they consider among the most sophisticated attacks ever launched against U.S. government systems. The intrusion was routed through computers around the world, as hackers often do to hide their tracks, but investigators found tell-tale codes and other markers that they believe point to hackers working for the Russian government.
National Security Council spokesman Mark Stroh didn’t confirm the Russian hack, but he did say that “any such activity is something we take very seriously.”
“In this case, as we made clear at the time, we took immediate measures to evaluate and mitigate the activity,” he said. “As has been our position, we are not going to comment on [this] article’s attribution to specific actors.”
Neither the U.S. State Department nor the Russian Embassy immediately responded to a request for comment.
Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the White House’s use of a separate system for classified information protected sensitive national security-related items from being obtained by hackers.
“We do not believe that our classified systems were compromised,” Rhodes told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.
“We’re constantly updating our security measures on our unclassified system, but we’re frankly told to act as if we need not put information that’s sensitive on that system,” he said. “In other words, if you’re going to do something classified, you have to do it on one email system, one phone system. Frankly, you have to act as if information could be compromised if it’s not on the classified system.”
To get to the White House, the hackers first broke into the State Department, investigators believe.
The State Department computer system has been bedeviled by signs that despite efforts to lock them out, the Russian hackers have been able to reenter the system. One official says the Russian hackers have “owned” the State Department system for months and it is not clear the hackers have been fully eradicated from the system.
As in many hacks, investigators believe the White House intrusion began with a phishing email that was launched using a State Department email account that the hackers had taken over, according to the U.S. officials.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in a speech at an FBI cyberconference in January, warned government officials and private businesses to teach employees what “spear phishing” looks like.
“So many times, the Chinese and others get access to our systems just by pretending to be someone else and then asking for access, and someone gives it to them,” Clapper said.
The ferocity of the Russian intrusions in recent months caught U.S. officials by surprise, leading to a reassessment of the cybersecurity threat as the U.S. and Russia increasingly confront each other over issues ranging from the Russian aggression in Ukraine to the U.S. military operations in Syria.
The attacks on the State and White House systems is one reason why Clapper told a Senate hearing in February that the “Russian cyberthreat is more severe than we have previously assessed.”
The revelations about the State Department hacks also come amid controversy over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business during her time in office. Critics say her private server likely was even less safe than the State system. The Russian breach is believed to have come after Clinton departed State.
But hackers have long made Clinton and her associates targets.
The website The Smoking Gun first reported in 2013 that a hacker known as Guccifer had broken into the AOL email of Sidney Blumenthal, a friend and advisor to the Clintons, and published emails Blumenthal sent to Hillary Clinton’s private account. The emails included sensitive memos on foreign policy issues and were the first public revelation of the existence of Hillary Clinton’s private email address now at the center of controversy: firstname.lastname@example.org. The address is no longer in use.
Wesley Bruer contributed to this report
Have to feel sorry for Snowden here…
Here’s an exclusive story (below) from Al Jazeera neither Google nor the NSA wants you to know.
Exclusive: Emails reveal close Google relationship with NSA
National Security Agency head and Internet giant’s executives have coordinated through high-level policy discussions
May 6, 2014 5:00AM ET
by Jason Leopold
Email exchanges between National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt suggest a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the U.S. government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass after last year’s revelations about NSA spying.
Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s vast capability for spying on Americans’ electronic communications prompted a number of tech executives whose firms cooperated with the government to insist they had done so only when compelled by a court of law.
But Al Jazeera has obtained two sets of email communications dating from a year before Snowden became a household name that suggest not all cooperation was under pressure.
On the morning of June 28, 2012, an email from Alexander invited Schmidt to attend a four-hour-long “classified threat briefing” on Aug. 8 at a “secure facility in proximity to the San Jose, CA airport.”
“The meeting discussion will be topic-specific, and decision-oriented, with a focus on Mobility Threats and Security,” Alexander wrote in the email, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the first of dozens of communications between the NSA chief and Silicon Valley executives that the agency plans to turn over.
Alexander, Schmidt and other industry executives met earlier in the month, according to the email. But Alexander wanted another meeting with Schmidt and “a small group of CEOs” later that summer because the government needed Silicon Valley’s help.
“About six months ago, we began focusing on the security of mobility devices,” Alexander wrote. “A group (primarily Google, Apple and Microsoft) recently came to agreement on a set of core security principles. When we reach this point in our projects we schedule a classified briefing for the CEOs of key companies to provide them a brief on the specific threats we believe can be mitigated and to seek their commitment for their organization to move ahead … Google’s participation in refinement, engineering and deployment of the solutions will be essential.”
Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, said she believes information sharing between industry and the government is “absolutely essential” but “at the same time, there is some risk to user privacy and to user security from the way the vulnerability disclosure is done.”
The challenge facing government and industry was to enhance security without compromising privacy, Granick said. The emails between Alexander and Google executives, she said, show “how informal information sharing has been happening within this vacuum where there hasn’t been a known, transparent, concrete, established methodology for getting security information into the right hands.”
The classified briefing cited by Alexander was part of a secretive government initiative known as the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), and his email provides some rare information about what the ESF entails, the identities of some participant tech firms and the threats they discussed.
Alexander explained that the deputy secretaries of the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and “18 US CEOs” launched the ESF in 2009 to “coordinate government/industry actions on important (generally classified) security issues that couldn’t be solved by individual actors alone.”
“For example, over the last 18 months, we (primarily Intel, AMD [Advanced Micro Devices], HP [Hewlett-Packard], Dell and Microsoft on the industry side) completed an effort to secure the BIOS of enterprise platforms to address a threat in that area.”
“BIOS” is an acronym for “basic input/output system,” the system software that initializes the hardware in a personal computer before the operating system starts up. NSA cyberdefense chief Debora Plunkett in December disclosed that the agency had thwarted a “BIOS plot” by a “nation-state,” identified as China, to brick U.S. computers. That plot, she said, could have destroyed the U.S. economy. “60 Minutes,” which broke the story, reported that the NSA worked with unnamed “computer manufacturers” to address the BIOS software vulnerability.
But some cybersecurity experts questioned the scenario outlined by Plunkett.
“There is probably some real event behind this, but it’s hard to tell, because we don’t have any details,” wrote Robert Graham, CEO of the penetration-testing firm Errata Security in Atlanta, on his blog in December. “It”s completely false in the message it is trying to convey. What comes out is gibberish, as any technical person can confirm.”
And by enlisting the NSA to shore up their defenses, those companies may have made themselves more vulnerable to the agency’s efforts to breach them for surveillance purposes.
“I think the public should be concerned about whether the NSA was really making its best efforts, as the emails claim, to help secure enterprise BIOS and mobile devices and not holding the best vulnerabilities close to their chest,” said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team.
He doesn’t doubt that the NSA was trying to secure enterprise BIOS, but he suggested that the agency, for its own purposes, was “looking for weaknesses in the exact same products they’re trying to secure.”
The NSA “has no business helping Google secure its facilities from the Chinese and at the same time hacking in through the back doors and tapping the fiber connections between Google base centers,” Cardozo said. “The fact that it’s the same agency doing both of those things is in obvious contradiction and ridiculous.” He recommended dividing offensive and defensive functions between two agencies.
Two weeks after the “60 Minutes” broadcast, the German magazine Der Spiegel, citing documents obtained by Snowden, reported that the NSA inserted back doors into BIOS, doing exactly what Plunkett accused a nation-state of doing during her interview.
Google’s Schmidt was unable to attend to the mobility security meeting in San Jose in August 2012.
“General Keith.. so great to see you.. !” Schmidt wrote. “I’m unlikely to be in California that week so I’m sorry I can’t attend (will be on the east coast). Would love to see you another time. Thank you !” Since the Snowden disclosures, Schmidt has been critical of the NSA and said its surveillance programs may be illegal.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend that briefing. Foreign Policy reported a month later that Dempsey and other government officials — no mention of Alexander — were in Silicon Valley “picking the brains of leaders throughout the valley and discussing the need to quickly share information on cyber threats.” Foreign Policy noted that the Silicon Valley executives in attendance belonged to the ESF. The story did not say mobility threats and security was the top agenda item along with a classified threat briefing.
A week after the gathering, Dempsey said during a Pentagon press briefing, “I was in Silicon Valley recently, for about a week, to discuss vulnerabilities and opportunities in cyber with industry leaders … They agreed — we all agreed on the need to share threat information at network speed.”
Google co-founder Sergey Brin attended previous meetings of the ESF group but because of a scheduling conflict, according to Alexander’s email, he also could not attend the Aug. 8 briefing in San Jose, and it’s unknown if someone else from Google was sent.
A few months earlier, Alexander had emailed Brin to thank him for Google’s participation in the ESF.
“I see ESF’s work as critical to the nation’s progress against the threat in cyberspace and really appreciate Vint Cerf [Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist], Eric Grosse [vice president of security engineering] and Adrian Ludwig’s [lead engineer for Android security] contributions to these efforts during the past year,” Alexander wrote in a Jan. 13, 2012, email.
“You recently received an invitation to the ESF Executive Steering Group meeting, which will be held on January 19, 2012. The meeting is an opportunity to recognize our 2012 accomplishments and set direction for the year to come. We will be discussing ESF’s goals and specific targets for 2012. We will also discuss some of the threats we see and what we are doing to mitigate those threats … Your insights, as a key member of the Defense Industrial Base, are valuable to ensure ESF’s efforts have measurable impact.”
A Google representative declined to answer specific questions about Brin’s and Schmidt’s relationship with Alexander or about Google’s work with the government.
“We work really hard to protect our users from cyberattacks, and we always talk to experts — including in the U.S. government — so we stay ahead of the game,” the representative said in a statement to Al Jazeera. “It’s why Sergey attended this NSA conference.”
Brin responded to Alexander the following day even though the head of the NSA didn’t use the appropriate email address when contacting the co-chairman.
“Hi Keith, looking forward to seeing you next week. FYI, my best email address to use is [redacted],” Brin wrote. “The one your email went to — email@example.com — I don’t really check.”