Ramblings & ephemera

The email dead drop

From the L.A. Times‘ “Cyberspace Gives Al Qaeda Refuge“: Simplicity seems to work best. One common method of communicating over the Internet is essentially an e-mail version of the classic dead drop. Members of a cell are all given the same prearranged username and password for an e-mail account on an Internet service provider, or […]

Getting past security on planes

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 August 2003: It’s actually easy to fly on someone else’s ticket. Here’s how: First, have an upstanding citizen buy an e-ticket. (This also works if you steal someone’s identity or credit card.) Second, on the morning of the flight print the boarding pass at home. (Most airlines now offer […]

Problems with ID cards

From Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram of 15 April 2004: My argument may not be obvious, but it’s not hard to follow, either. It centers around the notion that security must be evaluated not based on how it works, but on how it fails. It doesn’t really matter how well an ID card works when used by […]

Al Qaeda’s use of social networking sites

From Brian Prince’s “How Terrorism Touches the ‘Cloud’ at RSA” (eWeek: 23 April 2009): When it comes to the war on terrorism, not all battles, intelligence gathering and recruitment happen in the street. Some of it occurs in the more elusive world of the Internet, where supporters of terrorist networks build social networking sites to recruit […]

Crazy anti-terrorism plans that worked

From a Special Operations officer quoted in Tom Ricks’s Inbox (The Washington Post: 5 October 2008): One of the most interesting operations was the laundry mat [sic]. Having lost many troops and civilians to bombings, the Brits decided they needed to determine who was making the bombs and where they were being manufactured. One bright […]

Bush, rhetoric, & the exercise of power

From Mark Danner’s “Words in a Time of War: Taking the Measure of the First Rhetoric-Major President” (Tomgram: 10 May 2007): [Note: This commencement address was given to graduates of the Department of Rhetoric at Zellerbach Hall, University of California, Berkeley, on May 10, 2007] … I give you my favorite quotation from the Bush […]

The future of security

From Bruce Schneier’s “Security in Ten Years” (Crypto-Gram: 15 December 2007): Bruce Schneier: … The nature of the attacks will be different: the targets, tactics and results. Security is both a trade-off and an arms race, a balance between attacker and defender, and changes in technology upset that balance. Technology might make one particular tactic […]

Problems with airport security

From Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Things He Carried” (The Atlantic: November 2008): Because the TSA’s security regimen seems to be mainly thing-based—most of its 44,500 airport officers are assigned to truffle through carry-on bags for things like guns, bombs, three-ounce tubes of anthrax, Crest toothpaste, nail clippers, Snapple, and so on—I focused my efforts on bringing […]

Lots of good info about the FBI’s far-reaching wiretapping of US phone systems

From Ryan Singel’s “Point, Click … Eavesdrop: How the FBI Wiretap Net Operates” (Wired News: 29 August 2007): The FBI has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device, according to nearly a thousand pages of restricted documents newly released under the Freedom of Information Act. The […]

Abuse of “terrorist” investigative powers

From BBC News’ “Council admits spying on family” (10 April 2008): A council has admitted spying on a family using laws to track criminals and terrorists to find out if they were really living in a school catchment. A couple and their three children were put under surveillance without their knowledge by Poole Borough Council […]

Bush’s Manicheanism destroyed him

From Glenn Greenwald’s “A tragic legacy: How a good vs. evil mentality destroyed the Bush presidency” (Salon: 20 June 2007): One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness — who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to […]

Politics as pathology

From Charles Platt’s “The Profits of Fear” (August 2005): It seems to me axiomatic that most primary actors on the global stage are disturbed people, because an obsessive lust for power is itself a pathology, and in a competition among thousands or millions of power seekers, only the most pathological are likely to win. … […]

The CIA’s ‘black sites’ hide terror suspects around the world

From Dana Priest’s “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons” (The Washington Post: 2 November 2005): The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement. The secret facility is part of a […]

Why the color-coded threat alert system fails

From Bruce Schneier’s “Color-Coded Terrorist Threat Levels” (Crypto-Gram Newsletter: 15 January 2004): The color-coded threat alerts issued by the Department of Homeland Security are useless today, but may become useful in the future. The U.S. military has a similar system; DEFCON 1-5 corresponds to the five threat alerts levels: Green, Blue, Yellow, Orange, and Red. […]

PATRIOT Act greatly expands what a ‘financial institution’ is

From Bruce Schneier’s “News” (Crypto-Gram Newsletter: 15 January 2004): Last month Bush snuck into law one of the provisions of the failed PATRIOT ACT 2. The FBI can now obtain records from financial institutions without requiring permission from a judge. The institution can’t tell the target person that his records were taken by the FBI. […]

Media-induced fear & its effects

From John Twelve Hawks’s “ How We Live Now” (2005): In his insightful book “The Culture of Fear,” Barry Glassner shows how many of our specific fears are created and sustained by media manipulation. There can be an enormous discrepancy between what we fear and the reality of what could happen to us. Glassner analyzes […]

What RFID passports really mean

From John Twelve Hawks’s “ How We Live Now” (2005): The passports contain a radio frequency identification chip (RFID) so that all our personal information can be instantly read by a machine at the airport. However, the State Department has refused to encrypt the information embedded in the chip, because it requires more complicated technology […]

Fouche proud of terror, expanded

From Napoleonic Literature’s “The Court and Camp of Buonaparte: The Ministers: Fouche“: But whatever might be the merit of his services at Nantes, it was far eclipsed by those he had soon afterwards the happiness to perform at Lyons. On his arrival there with Collot d’Herbois, he announced to the terrified citizens the reward they […]

Fouche proud of terror

From Central Missouri State University’s “Joseph Fouche“: As chief police officer of the revolutionary government, Fouché was given the power to impose the government’s policies quickly and mercilessly. He demonstrated his willingness to accomplish this feat when, after the population of Lyons revolted against the government, he personally presided over the mass executions in that […]

Why no terrorist attacks since 9/11?

From Bruce Schneier’s “Movie Plot Threat Contest: Status Report” (Crypto-Gram Newsletter: 15 May 2006): … you have to wonder why there have been no terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11. I don’t believe the “flypaper theory” that the terrorists are all in Iraq instead of in the U.S. And despite all the ineffectual security […]