Things we do that are legal, yet wish to remain private
Interviewing for a new job without your boss’s knowledge
Visiting a therapist
Inspired by Patrick Keefe’s “Camera Shy” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2003).
Interviewing for a new job without your boss’s knowledge
Visiting a therapist
Inspired by Patrick Keefe’s “Camera Shy” (Legal Affairs: July/August 2003).
From Michael Reilly’s “In-flight surveillance could foil terrorists in the sky” (New Scientist: 29 May 2008):
CCTV cameras are bringing more and more public places under surveillance – and passenger aircraft could be next.
A prototype European system uses multiple cameras and “Big Brother” software to try and automatically detect terrorists or other dangers caused by passengers.
The European Union’s Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project uses a camera in every passenger’s seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or “air-rage” incidents, by tracking passengers’ facial expressions.
“It looks for running in the cabin, standing near the cockpit for long periods of time, and other predetermined indicators that suggest a developing threat,” says James Ferryman of the University of Reading, UK, one of the system’s developers.
Other behaviours could include a person nervously touching their face, or sweating excessively. One such behaviour won’t trigger the system to alert the crew, only certain combinations of them.
From Jake Adelstein’s “This Mob Is Big in Japan” (The Washington Post: 11 May 2008):
Most Americans think of Japan as a law-abiding and peaceful place, as well as our staunch ally, but reporting on the underworld gave me a different perspective. Mobs are legal entities here. Their fan magazines and comic books are sold in convenience stores, and bosses socialize with prime ministers and politicians. …
I loved my job. The cops fighting organized crime are hard-drinking iconoclasts — many look like their mobster foes, with their black suits and slicked-back hair. They’re outsiders in Japanese society, and perhaps because I was an outsider too, we got along well. The yakuza’s tribal features are also compelling, like those of an alien life form: the full-body tattoos, missing digits and pseudo-family structure. …
The Japanese National Police Agency (NPA) estimates that the yakuza have almost 80,000 members. The most powerful faction, the Yamaguchi-gumi, is known as “the Wal-Mart of the yakuza” and reportedly has close to 40,000 members. In Tokyo alone, the police have identified more than 800 yakuza front companies: investment and auditing firms, construction companies and pastry shops. The mobsters even set up their own bank in California, according to underworld sources.
Over the last seven years, the yakuza have moved into finance. Japan’s Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission has an index of more than 50 listed companies with ties to organized crime.
In the good old days, the yakuza made most of their money from sleaze: prostitution, drugs, protection money and child pornography. Kiddie porn is still part of their base income — and another area where Japan isn’t acting like America’s friend.
In 1999, my editors assigned me to cover the Tokyo neighborhood that includes Kabukicho, Japan’s largest red-light district. Japan had recently outlawed child pornography — reluctantly, after international pressure left officials no choice. But the ban, which is still in effect, had a major flaw: It criminalized producing and selling child pornography, not owning it. So the big-money industry goes on, unabated.
I’m not entirely objective on the issue of the yakuza in my adopted homeland. Three years ago, [Tadamasa Goto, a notorious Japanese gang boss, the one that some federal agents call the “John Gotti of Japan”] got word that I was reporting an article about his liver transplant. A few days later, his underlings obliquely threatened me. Then came a formal meeting. The offer was straightforward. “Erase the story or be erased,” one of them said. “Your family too.”
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 more effective, or one particular security technology cheaper and more ubiquitous. Or a new emergent application might become a favored target.
By 2017, people and organizations won’t be buying computers and connectivity the way they are today. The world will be dominated by telcos, large ISPs and systems integration companies, and computing will look a lot like a utility. Companies will be selling services, not products: email services, application services, entertainment services. We’re starting to see this trend today, and it’s going to take off in the next 10 years. Where this affects security is that by 2017, people and organizations won’t have a lot of control over their security. Everything will be handled at the ISPs and in the backbone. The free-wheeling days of general-use PCs will be largely over. Think of the iPhone model: You get what Apple decides to give you, and if you try to hack your phone, they can disable it remotely. We techie geeks won’t like it, but it’s the future. The Internet is all about commerce, and commerce won’t survive any other way.
Marcus Ranum: … Another trend I see getting worse is government IT know-how. At the rate outsourcing has been brain-draining the federal workforce, by 2017 there won’t be a single government employee who knows how to do anything with a computer except run PowerPoint and Web surf. Joking aside, the result is that the government’s critical infrastructure will be almost entirely managed from the outside. The strategic implications of such a shift have scared me for a long time; it amounts to a loss of control over data, resources and communications.
Bruce Schneier: … I’m reminded of the post-9/11 anti-terrorist hysteria — we’ve confused security with control, and instead of building systems for real security, we’re building systems of control. Think of ID checks everywhere, the no-fly list, warrantless eavesdropping, broad surveillance, data mining, and all the systems to check up on scuba divers, private pilots, peace activists and other groups of people. These give us negligible security, but put a whole lot of control in the government’s hands.
That’s the problem with any system that relies on control: Once you figure out how to hack the control system, you’re pretty much golden. So instead of a zillion pesky worms, by 2017 we’re going to see fewer but worse super worms that sail past our defenses.
From Stephen J. Dubner’s interview with Bruce Schneier in “Bruce Schneier Blazes Through Your Questions” (The New York Times: 4 December 2007):
There’s a huge difference between nosy neighbors and cameras. Cameras are everywhere. Cameras are always on. Cameras have perfect memory. It’s not the surveillance we’ve been used to; it’s wholesale surveillance. I wrote about this here, and said this: “Wholesale surveillance is a whole new world. It’s not ‘follow that car,’ it’s ‘follow every car.’ The National Security Agency can eavesdrop on every phone call, looking for patterns of communication or keywords that might indicate a conversation between terrorists. Many airports collect the license plates of every car in their parking lots, and can use that database to locate suspicious or abandoned cars. Several cities have stationary or car-mounted license-plate scanners that keep records of every car that passes, and save that data for later analysis.
“More and more, we leave a trail of electronic footprints as we go through our daily lives. We used to walk into a bookstore, browse, and buy a book with cash. Now we visit Amazon, and all of our browsing and purchases are recorded. We used to throw a quarter in a toll booth; now EZ Pass records the date and time our car passed through the booth. Data about us are collected when we make a phone call, send an e-mail message, make a purchase with our credit card, or visit a Web site.”
What’s happening is that we are all effectively under constant surveillance. No one is looking at the data most of the time, but we can all be watched in the past, present, and future. And while mining this data is mostly useless for finding terrorists (I wrote about that here), it’s very useful in controlling a population.
From James Bamford’s “Big Brother Is Listening” (The Atlantic: April 2006):
This legislation, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, established the FISA court—made up of eleven judges handpicked by the chief justice of the United States—as a secret part of the federal judiciary. The court’s job is to decide whether to grant warrants requested by the NSA or the FBI to monitor communications of American citizens and legal residents. The law allows the government up to three days after it starts eavesdropping to ask for a warrant; every violation of FISA carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Between May 18, 1979, when the court opened for business, until the end of 2004, it granted 18,742 NSA and FBI applications; it turned down only four outright.
Such facts worry Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who worked for the NSA as an intern while in law school in the 1980s. The FISA “courtroom,” hidden away on the top floor of the Justice Department building (because even its location is supposed to be secret), is actually a heavily protected, windowless, bug-proof installation known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF.
It is true that the court has been getting tougher. From 1979 through 2000, it modified only two out of 13,087 warrant requests. But from the start of the Bush administration, in 2001, the number of modifications increased to 179 out of 5,645 requests. Most of those—173—involved what the court terms “substantive modifications.”
Contrary to popular perception, the NSA does not engage in “wiretapping”; it collects signals intelligence, or “sigint.” In contrast to the image we have from movies and television of an FBI agent placing a listening device on a target’s phone line, the NSA intercepts entire streams of electronic communications containing millions of telephone calls and e-mails. It runs the intercepts through very powerful computers that screen them for particular names, telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and trigger words or phrases. Any communications containing flagged information are forwarded by the computer for further analysis.
Names and information on the watch lists are shared with the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and foreign intelligence services. Once a person’s name is in the files, even if nothing incriminating ever turns up, it will likely remain there forever. There is no way to request removal, because there is no way to confirm that a name is on the list.
In December of 1997, in a small factory outside the southern French city of Toulouse, a salesman got caught in the NSA’s electronic web. Agents working for the NSA’s British partner, the Government Communications Headquarters, learned of a letter of credit, valued at more than $1.1 million, issued by Iran’s defense ministry to the French company Microturbo. According to NSA documents, both the NSA and the GCHQ concluded that Iran was attempting to secretly buy from Microturbo an engine for the embargoed C-802 anti-ship missile. Faxes zapping back and forth between Toulouse and Tehran were intercepted by the GCHQ, which sent them on not just to the NSA but also to the Canadian and Australian sigint agencies, as well as to Britain’s MI6. The NSA then sent the reports on the salesman making the Iranian deal to a number of CIA stations around the world, including those in Paris and Bonn, and to the U.S. Commerce Department and the Customs Service. Probably several hundred people in at least four countries were reading the company’s communications.
Such events are central to the current debate involving the potential harm caused by the NSA’s warrantless domestic eavesdropping operation. Even though the salesman did nothing wrong, his name made its way into the computers and onto the watch lists of intelligence, customs, and other secret and law-enforcement organizations around the world. Maybe nothing will come of it. Maybe the next time he tries to enter the United States or Britain he will be denied, without explanation. Maybe he will be arrested. As the domestic eavesdropping program continues to grow, such uncertainties may plague innocent Americans whose names are being run through the supercomputers even though the NSA has not met the established legal standard for a search warrant. It is only when such citizens are turned down while applying for a job with the federal government—or refused when seeking a Small Business Administration loan, or turned back by British customs agents when flying to London on vacation, or even placed on a “no-fly” list—that they will realize that something is very wrong. But they will never learn why.
General Michael Hayden, director of the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and now principal deputy director of national intelligence, noted in 2002 that during the 1990s, e-communications “surpassed traditional communications. That is the same decade when mobile cell phones increased from 16 million to 741 million—an increase of nearly 50 times. That is the same decade when Internet users went from about 4 million to 361 million—an increase of over 90 times. Half as many land lines were laid in the last six years of the 1990s as in the whole previous history of the world. In that same decade of the 1990s, international telephone traffic went from 38 billion minutes to over 100 billion. This year, the world’s population will spend over 180 billion minutes on the phone in international calls alone.”
Intercepting communications carried by satellite is fairly simple for the NSA. The key conduits are the thirty Intelsat satellites that ring the Earth, 22,300 miles above the equator. Many communications from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to the eastern half of the United States, for example, are first uplinked to an Intelsat satellite and then downlinked to AT&T’s ground station in Etam, West Virginia. From there, phone calls, e-mails, and other communications travel on to various parts of the country. To listen in on that rich stream of information, the NSA built a listening post fifty miles away, near Sugar Grove, West Virginia. Consisting of a group of very large parabolic dishes, hidden in a heavily forested valley and surrounded by tall hills, the post can easily intercept the millions of calls and messages flowing every hour into the Etam station. On the West Coast, high on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Okanogan River, near Brewster, Washington, is the major commercial downlink for communications to and from Asia and the Pacific. Consisting of forty parabolic dishes, it is reportedly the largest satellite antenna farm in the Western Hemisphere. A hundred miles to the south, collecting every whisper, is the NSA’s western listening post, hidden away on a 324,000-acre Army base in Yakima, Washington. The NSA posts collect the international traffic beamed down from the Intelsat satellites over the Atlantic and Pacific. But each also has a number of dishes that appear to be directed at domestic telecommunications satellites.
Until recently, most international telecommunications flowing into and out of the United States traveled by satellite. But faster, more reliable undersea fiber-optic cables have taken the lead, and the NSA has adapted. The agency taps into the cables that don’t reach our shores by using specially designed submarines, such as the USS Jimmy Carter, to attach a complex “bug” to the cable itself. This is difficult, however, and undersea taps are short-lived because the batteries last only a limited time. The fiber-optic transmission cables that enter the United States from Europe and Asia can be tapped more easily at the landing stations where they come ashore. With the acquiescence of the telecommunications companies, it is possible for the NSA to attach monitoring equipment inside the landing station and then run a buried encrypted fiber-optic “backhaul” line to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the river of data can be analyzed by supercomputers in near real time.
Tapping into the fiber-optic network that carries the nation’s Internet communications is even easier, as much of the information transits through just a few “switches” (similar to the satellite downlinks). Among the busiest are MAE East (Metropolitan Area Ethernet), in Vienna, Virginia, and MAE West, in San Jose, California, both owned by Verizon. By accessing the switch, the NSA can see who’s e-mailing with whom over the Internet cables and can copy entire messages. Last September, the Federal Communications Commission further opened the door for the agency. The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act required telephone companies to rewire their networks to provide the government with secret access. The FCC has now extended the act to cover “any type of broadband Internet access service” and the new Internet phone services—and ordered company officials never to discuss any aspect of the program.
The National Security Agency was born in absolute secrecy. Unlike the CIA, which was created publicly by a congressional act, the NSA was brought to life by a top-secret memorandum signed by President Truman in 1952, consolidating the country’s various military sigint operations into a single agency. Even its name was secret, and only a few members of Congress were informed of its existence—and they received no information about some of its most important activities. Such secrecy has lent itself to abuse.
During the Vietnam War, for instance, the agency was heavily involved in spying on the domestic opposition to the government. Many of the Americans on the watch lists of that era were there solely for having protested against the war. … Even so much as writing about the NSA could land a person a place on a watch list.
For instance, during World War I, the government read and censored thousands of telegrams—the e-mail of the day—sent hourly by telegraph companies. Though the end of the war brought with it a reversion to the Radio Act of 1912, which guaranteed the secrecy of communications, the State and War Departments nevertheless joined together in May of 1919 to create America’s first civilian eavesdropping and code-breaking agency, nicknamed the Black Chamber. By arrangement, messengers visited the telegraph companies each morning and took bundles of hard-copy telegrams to the agency’s offices across town. These copies were returned before the close of business that day.
A similar tale followed the end of World War II. In August of 1945, President Truman ordered an end to censorship. That left the Signal Security Agency (the military successor to the Black Chamber, which was shut down in 1929) without its raw intelligence—the telegrams provided by the telegraph companies. The director of the SSA sought access to cable traffic through a secret arrangement with the heads of the three major telegraph companies. The companies agreed to turn all telegrams over to the SSA, under a plan code-named Operation Shamrock. It ran until the government’s domestic spying programs were publicly revealed, in the mid-1970s.
Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who led the first probe into the National Security Agency, warned in 1975 that the agency’s capabilities
“could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it is done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capacity of this technology.”
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 surveillance system, called DCSNet, for Digital Collection System Network, connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies. It is far more intricately woven into the nation’s telecom infrastructure than observers suspected.
It’s a “comprehensive wiretap system that intercepts wire-line phones, cellular phones, SMS and push-to-talk systems,” says Steven Bellovin, a Columbia University computer science professor and longtime surveillance expert.
DCSNet is a suite of software that collects, sifts and stores phone numbers, phone calls and text messages. The system directly connects FBI wiretapping outposts around the country to a far-reaching private communications network.
The $10 million DCS-3000 client, also known as Red Hook, handles pen-registers and trap-and-traces, a type of surveillance that collects signaling information — primarily the numbers dialed from a telephone — but no communications content. (Pen registers record outgoing calls; trap-and-traces record incoming calls.)
DCS-6000, known as Digital Storm, captures and collects the content of phone calls and text messages for full wiretap orders.
A third, classified system, called DCS-5000, is used for wiretaps targeting spies or terrorists.
What DCSNet Can Do
Together, the surveillance systems let FBI agents play back recordings even as they are being captured (like TiVo), create master wiretap files, send digital recordings to translators, track the rough location of targets in real time using cell-tower information, and even stream intercepts outward to mobile surveillance vans.
FBI wiretapping rooms in field offices and undercover locations around the country are connected through a private, encrypted backbone that is separated from the internet. Sprint runs it on the government’s behalf.
The network allows an FBI agent in New York, for example, to remotely set up a wiretap on a cell phone based in Sacramento, California, and immediately learn the phone’s location, then begin receiving conversations, text messages and voicemail pass codes in New York. With a few keystrokes, the agent can route the recordings to language specialists for translation.
The numbers dialed are automatically sent to FBI analysts trained to interpret phone-call patterns, and are transferred nightly, by external storage devices, to the bureau’s Telephone Application Database, where they’re subjected to a type of data mining called link analysis.
The numerical scope of DCSNet surveillance is still guarded. But we do know that as telecoms have become more wiretap-friendly, the number of criminal wiretaps alone has climbed from 1,150 in 1996 to 1,839 in 2006. That’s a 60 percent jump. And in 2005, 92 percent of those criminal wiretaps targeted cell phones, according to a report published last year.
These figures include both state and federal wiretaps, and do not include antiterrorism wiretaps, which dramatically expanded after 9/11. They also don’t count the DCS-3000’s collection of incoming and outgoing phone numbers dialed. Far more common than full-blown wiretaps, this level of surveillance requires only that investigators certify that the phone numbers are relevant to an investigation.
In the 1990s, the Justice Department began complaining to Congress that digital technology, cellular phones and features like call forwarding would make it difficult for investigators to continue to conduct wiretaps. Congress responded by passing the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, in 1994, mandating backdoors in U.S. telephone switches.
CALEA requires telecommunications companies to install only telephone-switching equipment that meets detailed wiretapping standards. Prior to CALEA, the FBI would get a court order for a wiretap and present it to a phone company, which would then create a physical tap of the phone system.
With new CALEA-compliant digital switches, the FBI now logs directly into the telecom’s network. Once a court order has been sent to a carrier and the carrier turns on the wiretap, the communications data on a surveillance target streams into the FBI’s computers in real time.
The released documents suggest that the FBI’s wiretapping engineers are struggling with peer-to-peer telephony provider Skype, which offers no central location to wiretap, and with innovations like caller-ID spoofing and phone-number portability.
Despite its ease of use, the new technology is proving more expensive than a traditional wiretap. Telecoms charge the government an average of $2,200 for a 30-day CALEA wiretap, while a traditional intercept costs only $250, according to the Justice Department inspector general. A federal wiretap order in 2006 cost taxpayers $67,000 on average, according to the most recent U.S. Court wiretap report.
What’s more, under CALEA, the government had to pay to make pre-1995 phone switches wiretap-friendly. The FBI has spent almost $500 million on that effort, but many traditional wire-line switches still aren’t compliant.
Processing all the phone calls sucked in by DCSNet is also costly. At the backend of the data collection, the conversations and phone numbers are transferred to the FBI’s Electronic Surveillance Data Management System, an Oracle SQL database that’s seen a 62 percent growth in wiretap volume over the last three years — and more than 3,000 percent growth in digital files like e-mail. Through 2007, the FBI has spent $39 million on the system, which indexes and analyzes data for agents, translators and intelligence analysts.
From Heather Knight’s “S.F. public housing cameras no help in homicide arrests” (San Francisco Chronicle: 14 August 2007):
The 178 video cameras that keep watch on San Francisco public housing developments have never helped police officers arrest a homicide suspect even though about a quarter of the city’s homicides occur on or near public housing property, city officials say.
Nobody monitors the cameras, and the videos are seen only if police specifically request it from San Francisco Housing Authority officials. The cameras have occasionally managed to miss crimes happening in front of them because they were trained in another direction, and footage is particularly grainy at night when most crime occurs, according to police and city officials.
Similar concerns have been raised about the 70 city-owned cameras located at high-crime locations around San Francisco.
So far this year, 66 homicides have occurred in San Francisco, compared with 85 in all of 2006. On average, about a quarter of the city’s homicides happen on or near public housing property every year, according to statistics from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
The authority has spent $203,603 to purchase and maintain its cameras since installing the first batch in the summer of 2005. It has plans to install another 81 cameras, but no date has been set.
From Bruce Schneier’s “Anonymity and the Netflix Dataset” (Crypto-Gram: 15 January 2008):
The point of the research was to demonstrate how little information is required to de-anonymize information in the Netflix dataset.
What the University of Texas researchers demonstrate is that this process isn’t hard, and doesn’t require a lot of data. It turns out that if you eliminate the top 100 movies everyone watches, our movie-watching habits are all pretty individual. This would certainly hold true for our book reading habits, our internet shopping habits, our telephone habits and our web searching habits.
Other research reaches the same conclusion. Using public anonymous data from the 1990 census, Latanya Sweeney found that 87 percent of the population in the United States, 216 million of 248 million, could likely be uniquely identified by their five-digit ZIP code, combined with their gender and date of birth. About half of the U.S. population is likely identifiable by gender, date of birth and the city, town or municipality in which the person resides. Expanding the geographic scope to an entire county reduces that to a still-significant 18 percent. “In general,” the researchers wrote, “few characteristics are needed to uniquely identify a person.”
Stanford University researchers reported similar results using 2000 census data. It turns out that date of birth, which (unlike birthday month and day alone) sorts people into thousands of different buckets, is incredibly valuable in disambiguating people.
From BBC News’ “CCTV boom ‘failing to cut crime’” (6 May 2008):
Huge investment in closed-circuit TV technology has failed to cut UK crime, a senior police officer has warned.
Det Ch Insp Mick Neville said the system was an “utter fiasco” – with only 3% of London’s street robberies being solved using security cameras.
Although Britain had more cameras than any other European country, he said “no thought” had gone into how to use them.
Speaking at the Security Document World Conference in London, Det Ch Insp Neville, the head of the Met’s Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido), said one of the problems was that criminals were not afraid of cameras.
He also said more training was needed for officers who often avoided trawling through CCTV images “because it’s hard work”.
One study suggests there may be more than 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK – the majority on private property – but until Viido was set up in September 2006 there had been no dedicated police unit to deal with the collection and dissemination of CCTV evidence.
From Owen Bowcott’s “CCTV boom has failed to slash crime, say police” (The Guardian: 6 May 2008):
Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.
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 for more than two weeks.
The council admitted using powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) on six occasions in total.
Three of those were for suspected fraudulent school place applications.
RIPA legislation allows councils to carry out surveillance if it suspects criminal activity.
On its website, the Home Office says: “The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) legislates for using methods of surveillance and information gathering to help the prevention of crime, including terrorism.”
From Bruce Schneier’s “Hacking Computers Over USB” (Crypto-Gram: 15 June 2005):
From CSO Magazine:
“Plug an iPod or USB stick into a PC running Windows and the device can literally take over the machine and search for confidential documents, copy them back to the iPod or USB’s internal storage, and hide them as “deleted” files. Alternatively, the device can simply plant spyware, or even compromise the operating system. Two features that make this possible are the Windows AutoRun facility and the ability of peripherals to use something called direct memory access (DMA). The first attack vector you can and should plug; the second vector is the result of a design flaw that’s likely to be with us for many years to come.” …
Recently I’ve been seeing more and more written about this attack. The Spring 2006 issue of 2600 Magazine, for example, contains a short article called “iPod Sneakiness” (unfortunately, not online). The author suggests that you can innocently ask someone at an Internet cafe if you can plug your iPod into his computer to power it up — and then steal his passwords and critical files.
And about someone used this trick in a penetration test:
“We figured we would try something different by baiting the same employees that were on high alert. We gathered all the worthless vendor giveaway thumb drives collected over the years and imprinted them with our own special piece of software. I had one of my guys write a Trojan that, when run, would collect passwords, logins and machine-specific information from the user’s computer, and then email the findings back to us.
“The next hurdle we had was getting the USB drives in the hands of the credit union’s internal users. I made my way to the credit union at about 6 a.m. to make sure no employees saw us. I then proceeded to scatter the drives in the parking lot, smoking areas, and other areas employees frequented.
“Once I seeded the USB drives, I decided to grab some coffee and watch the employees show up for work. Surveillance of the facility was worth the time involved. It was really amusing to watch the reaction of the employees who found a USB drive. You know they plugged them into their computers the minute they got to their desks.
“I immediately called my guy that wrote the Trojan and asked if anything was received at his end. Slowly but surely info was being mailed back to him. I would have loved to be on the inside of the building watching as people started plugging the USB drives in, scouring through the planted image files, then unknowingly running our piece of software.”
From Bruce Sterling’s “Viridian Note 00459: Emerging Technology 2006” (The Viridian Design Movement: March 2006):
Here’s another contender from Julian Bleecker …
“Blogjects” Ã¢â‚¬â€œ objects which emit data about their use.
From Seth David Schoen’s “Wiretapping vulnerabilities” (Vitanuova: 9 March 2006):
Traditional wiretap threat model: the risks are detection of the tap, and obfuscation of content of communication. …
POTS is basically the same as it was 100 years ago — with central offices and circuit-switching. A phone from 100 years ago will pretty much still work today. “Telephones are a remarkable example of engineering optimization” because they were built to work with very minimal requirements: just two wires between CO and the end subscriber, don’t assume that the subscriber has power, don’t assume that the subscriber has anything else. There is a DC current loop that provides 48 V DC power. The current loop determines the hook switch state. There’s also audio signalling for in-band signalling from phone to CO — or from CO to phone — or for voice. It all depends on context and yet all these things are multiplexed over two wires, including the hook state and the audio signalling and the voice traffic.
If you wanted to tap this: you could do it in three different ways.
* Via the local loop (wired or wireless/cellular).
* Via the CO switch (software programming).
* Via trunk interception (e.g. fiber, microwave, satellite) with demultiplexing.
How do LEAs do it? Almost always at local loop or CO. (By contrast, intelligence agencies are more likely to try to tap trunks.)
From Kim Zetter’s “The NSA is on the line — all of them” (Salon: 15 May 2006):
As fireworks showered New York Harbor [in 1976], the country was debating a three-decades-long agreement between Western Union and other telecommunications companies to surreptitiously supply the NSA, on a daily basis, with all telegrams sent to and from the United States. The similarity between that earlier program and the most recent one is remarkable, with one exception — the NSA now owns vastly improved technology to sift through and mine massive amounts of data it has collected in what is being described as the world’s single largest database of personal information. And, according to Aid, the mining goes far beyond our phone lines.
The controversy over Project Shamrock in 1976 ultimately led Congress to pass the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other privacy and communication laws designed to prevent commercial companies from working in cahoots with the government to conduct wholesale secret surveillance on their customers. But as stories revealed last week, those safeguards had little effect in preventing at least three telecommunications companies from repeating history. …
[Intelligence historian Matthew Aid] compared the agency’s current data mining to Project Shamrock and Echelon, the code name for an NSA computer system that for many years analyzed satellite communication signals outside the U.S., and generated its own controversy when critics claimed that in addition to eavesdropping on enemy communication, the satellites were eavesdropping on allies’ domestic phone and e-mail conversations. …
If you want some historical perspective look at Operation Shamrock, which collapsed in 1975 because [Rep.] Bella Abzug [D-NY] subpoenaed the heads of Western Union and the other telecommunications giants and put them in witness chairs, and they all admitted that they had cooperated with the NSA for the better part of 40 years by supplying cables and telegrams.
The newest system being added to the NSA infrastructure, by the way, is called Project Trailblazer, which was initiated in 2002 and which was supposed to go online about now but is fantastically over budget and way behind schedule. Trailblazer is designed to copy the new forms of telecommunications — fiber optic cable traffic, cellphone communication, BlackBerry and Internet e-mail traffic. …
Echelon, in fact, is nothing more than a VAX microcomputer that was manufactured in the early 1970s by Digital Equipment Corp., and was used at six satellite intercept stations [to filter and sort data collected from the satellites and distribute it to analysts]. The computer has long since been obsolete. Since 9/11, whatever plans in place to modernize Echelon have been put on hold. The NSA does in fact have a global intercept network, but they just call it the intercept collection infrastructure. They don’t have a code name or anything sexy to describe it, and it didn’t do domestic spying.
From Bo Elkjaer and Kenan Seeberg’s “Echelon’S Architect” (Cryptome: 21 May 2002):
After that, [Bruce McIndoe] started to design Echelon II, an enlargement of the original system.
Bruce McIndoe left the inner circle of the enormous espionage network in 1998, a network run by the National Security Agency, the world’s most powerful intelligence agency, in cooperation with other Western intelligence services. Ekstra Bladet tracked down Bruce McIndoe to IJet Travel Intelligence, a private espionage agency where he is currently second in command.
IJet Travel Intelligence is an exceedingly effective, specialized company that employs former staff members of the NSA, CIA, KGB and South African intelligence services.
The company’s task is to furnish reports for top executives from US business and industry that reveal everything about the destination to which they are travelling for their multinational company. All the information they need to make the trip as safe as possible. The company resembles a miniature version of his previous employer, the world’s most powerful intelligence agency, the NSA. …
“Okay. In short, we have transferred everything I did for the NSA and other services to a private company that then sells intelligence to businesspersons. We get information on everything from local diseases, outbreaks of malaria epidemics and local unrest to strikes, the weather and traffic conditions. Our customers are large multinational companies like Prudential and Texas Instruments. We also work for institutions like the World Bank and the IMF.” …
“Yes, exactly. Our staff are also former intelligent agents who have either developed or run espionage operations for US intelligence agencies or people from the UK, South Africa and Russia.”
From PR Newswire’s “OnStar Achieves Another First as Winner of Good Housekeeping’s ‘Good Buy’ Award for Best Servic” (3 December 2004):
Each month on average, OnStar receives about 700 airbag notifications and 11,000 emergency assistance calls, which include 4,000 Good Samaritan calls for a variety of emergency situations. In addition, each month OnStar advisors respond to an average of 500 stolen vehicle location requests, 20,000 requests for roadside assistance, 36,000 remote door-unlock requests and 19,000 GM Goodwrench remote diagnostics requests.
From “Big Brother eyes ‘boost honesty’” (BBC News: 28 June 2006):
The feeling of being watched makes people act more honestly, even if the eyes are not real, a study suggests.
A Newcastle University team monitored how much money people put in a canteen “honesty box” when buying a drink.
They found people put nearly three times as much in when a poster of a pair of eyes was put above the box than when the poster showed flowers.
The brain responds to images of eyes and faces and the poster may have given the feeling of being watched, they say. …
Dr Melissa Bateson, a behavioural biologist from Newcastle University and the lead author of the study, said: “We found that people paid 2.76 times as much money when we put a notice on the wall that featured a pair of eyes as opposed to when the image was of some flowers.”
From Melissa Meagher’s “State Worker Spies on Boss, Loses His Job“:
For 22 years, [Vernon] Blake was a System Administrator for the Alabama Department of Transportation. It was a job he loved, with the exception of his supervisor. …
The running joke around the office? The boss blew off meetings and projects to play games on his computer. Cartoons secretly circled The Right of Way Bureau, jabbing at George Dobbs’ Solitaire habit. Dobbs is a 24-year veteran with the DOT and rakes in $67,000 a year. …
Without proof, Blake felt his accusations would get him nowhere. That’s when he turned to Win-Spy, a free version of spy ware, to tap his boss’s computer.
“My motive was to document well known behavior that already existed.”
For seven months, at random times of the day, the software captured pictures of Dobbs’ computer screen. …
Here’s what he found. Blake says less than 10% of his boss’s computer time, documented by Win-Spy, was spent working. Twenty-percent was spent checking the stock market. And 70% of what the spy ware recorded was the game of Solitaire. …
But DOT didn’t see it that way. When Blake showed them what he found, he was fired. His supervisor got a letter of reprimand, stating “It was brought to the Department’s attention you spent a significant amount of time playing video games… but your work ethic and production are above reproach.” …
It’s worth noting after Blake lost his job, DOT had all computer games, including Solitaire, removed from its system.
From Charles R. Smith’s “Big Brother on Board: OnStar Bugging Your Car“:
GM cars equipped with OnStar are supposed to be the leading edge of safety and technology. …
However, buried deep inside the OnStar system is a feature few suspected – the ability to eavesdrop on unsuspecting motorists.
The FBI found out about this passive listening feature and promptly served OnStar with a court order forcing the company to give it access. The court order the FBI gave OnStar was not something out of the Patriot Act involving international terrorism or national security but a simple criminal case.
According to court records, OnStar complied with the order but filed a protest lawsuit against the FBI.
Yet the FBI was able to enforce the original legal order and completed its surveillance because OnStar’s lawsuit took nearly two years to pass through the court system.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in OnStar’s favor. The ruling was not based on invasion-of-privacy grounds or some other legitimate constitutional basis. The FBI lost because the OnStar passive listening feature disables the emergency signal, the very life-saving call for help that the advertisements tout as the main reason to purchase the system. …
The technical problem of blocking the emergency signal is clearly one that the FBI tech teams can overcome. Thus, under the current ruling, the FBI can resume using OnStar to monitor subject vehicles once it has solved the emergency issue.