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Facebook disputes Belgian tracking order over use of English in court ruling

January 29, 2016

Facebook is objecting to the use of English words such as “cookie” and “browser” in a Belgian court order, which has demanded the site stop tracking users without their consent, saying that Belgians may not understand the words.

It forms a small part of Facebook’s appeal in its long-running battle over tracking of non-users of its social network.

Facebook was ordered to stop tracking internet users who do not have accounts with the social network within 24 hours or face fines of up to €250,000 a day. The ruling included the English words “browser” and “cookie” referring to parts of Facebook’s tracking technology.

Dirk Lindemans, a lawyer representing Facebook Belgium told the Belgian newspaper De Tijd: “It is a requirement that justice can be understood by everyone. Otherwise you get a slippery slope towards class-biased justice.”

The social network is appealing the use of English words under Belgian law that dictates rulings must be made in Dutch, French or German from a Belgian court. Facebook is claiming that the ruling should be annulled.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “It’s untrue to suggest that we are appealing our court case only on a point of language. It is one of many arguments which we made when we submitted our appeal documents in January and forms two paragraphs of 190 in a 37 page document.”

Even so, the strength of Facebook’s argument on this point is questionable. The Dutch for “web browser” is “webbrowser” for instance, while in French it is “browser” or “navigateur”. An internet “cookie”, as opposed to a biscuit, is “cookie” in all three languages.

The case, brought by the Belgian Privacy watchdog in June 2015, accused Facebook of indiscriminately tracking internet users when they visit pages on the site or click “like” or “share”, even if they are not members of the social network. Tracking users without their permission contravenes European privacy law.

The Belgian court said Facebook used a special “cookie” that lodged on a user’s device if they visited a Facebook page – for example belonging to a friend, a shop or a political party – even if they were not signed up to the network.

Facebook claims the cookie is used to protect users as part of its security systems, preventing user accounts being hacked.

Brendan van Alsenoy, legal researcher at the KU Leuven Centre for IT & IP law and author of the report into Facebook’s tracking of users on which the Belgium data protection case was built: “I can only express surprise and disbelief. It’s so far from the substance of the case, and needlessly detracts from the important issues at stake.”

Facebook said: “While we’re confident that we are fully compliant with applicable European law, we are working hard to address the Belgian Privacy Commissioner’s concerns in a way that allows us to provide the best possible service and have offered to work with them on a solution.”

Willem Debeuckelaere, president of the Belgian Privacy Commission said: “‘Law is a profession of words’, so keep it professional.”

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Security News This Week: Tim Cook Demands That the White House Defend Encryption

January 18, 2016

THIS WEEK, ROSS Ulbricht’s defense team dropped a brief appealing for a new trial, arguing that the court erroneously suppressed information about the corrupt federal agents investigating Silk Road. Using a clue from leaked Hacking Team files, researchers at Kaspersky Lab found a valuable zero-day exploit attacking a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Silverlight software. A researcher found a way for hackers to remotely burn industrial motors. Oh, and Netflix is cracking down on VPNs with the goal of acquiring global content rights for its movies and shows.

But that’s not all. Each Saturday we round up the news stories that we didn’t break or cover in depth at WIRED, but which deserve your attention nonetheless. As always, click on the headlines to read the full story in each link posted. And stay safe out there!

Apple CEO Calls on White House Officials to Defend Unbreakable Encryption
Looks like Tim Cook hasn’t changed his stance on encryption. During the delegation called by the White House to discuss counterterrorism issues with tech leaders, the Apple CEO apparently lashed out at Obama administration officials for not issuing a public statement defending the use of encryption without backdoors, according to two people briefed on the meeting who relayed the information to The Intercept. The meeting was attended by the White House Chief of Staff, Attorney General, and Secretary of Homeland Security, as well as NSA Director Michael Rogers, FBI Director James Comey, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Spamhaus Project Accuses Verizon of Routing Millions of IP Addresses for Spammers
A new post by the Spamhaus Project, an international non-profit organization fighting spam and cybercrime, says that Verizon is “currently by far the largest single source of snowshoe spam in operation today,” with more than 4 million spam IP addresses being routed through its network. (Snowshoe spam is a term for a technique used to get around spam filters and regulations, wherein spammers strategically send out their emails from a wide range of IP addresses, so that if one IP address gets caught, others may still get through.) Spamhaus Project claims that spammers are forging authorization documents alleging permission to use large IP blocks, and that Verizon is routing traffic based on those documents, even after being informed that the IP addresses were illegally obtained by spammers.

Homeland Security Asks Hotel Staff to Spy on Guests
The Department of Homeland Security is rolling out a so-called “Safe Action Project,’ in which it is asking hotel and hospitality staff to look at warnings of sex trafficking. The only problem is that the so-called red flags are broad enough to sweep up unsuspecting hotel patrons. Among other things, they include paying for rooms with cash or a rechargeable credit card, refusing maid service for several days, having “suspicious tattoos,” or photography equipment, or “excessive sex paraphernalia”—or too few personal possessions, trash cans with a lot of used condoms, or even the presence of multiple computers and devices.

US Spy Chief Gets Hacked by the Teen Who Hacked the CIA’s Director
Crackas with Attitude is back again—after hacking into CIA director John Brennan’s email account last October, and accessing online tools and portals used by law enforcement agencies, one of the group’s hackers, Cracka, has targeted Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Cracka told Motherboard he accessed Clapper’s home phone and internet accounts, personal email account, and his wife’s email account. The teenage hacker had calls to Clapper’s home phone number forwarded to the Free Palestine Movement. He also sent Motherboard call logs to Clapper’s home number. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the hack.

Librarians at New York University Purge Records to Protect User Privacy
The Graduate Center at the City University of New York has begun purging its older interlibrary loan records to protect the privacy of its patrons, deleting the date before the government can demand it. Although the Graduate Center’s chief librarian Polly Thistlethwaite told the Guardian that there was “nothing burning that prompted” the change, she described being approached by an NYPD officer while she was working at a different library. He was looking for users who’d checked out astrological books while looking for the Zodiac killer. The Graduate Center currently plans to keep all interlibrary loan requests dating back to 2013, but eventually hopes to keep a rolling record of only a year or less.

Dutch and Canadian Police Say They Can Read BlackBerry PGP Encrypted Email
The details are murky, but police in the Netherlands and in Canada have claimed that they can access deleted emails and read encrypted email messages on BlackBerry PGP devices, which are sold by resellers like GhostPGP who customize the devices with PGP encryption. Their technique requires physical access to the device.

Fresno Police Use Proprietary Software that Calculates “Threat Levels” of Addresses and Residents
When responding to 911 calls, police operators in Fresno have been consulting the threat-scoring software Beware, which analyzes people’s potential for violence using a series of data points such as arrest reports, social media posts, commercial databases, and property records. The software generates a color-coded threat level for an address and each resident. Only Beware’s manufacturer, Intrado, knows how threat scores are calculated, since it considers this a trade secret. Critics point out that these tools have little public oversight, have enormous potential for error, are intrusive, and have potential to be misused. After a November Fresno City Council hearing in which residents expressed concern, Fresno’s police chief said he’s working with Intrado to turn off the color-coded rating system.

ISIS Has Its Own Encrypted Messaging App
According to Defense One and the unnamed Ghost Security sources it spoke with, ISIS has its own new Android-based app, Alrawi.apk, for encrypted communication. This is in addition to the previously discovered Amaq Agency app, which GhostSec says is used primarily for distributing propaganda.

Companies, Activists, and Tech Experts Call on Global Leaders to Support Strong Encryption
Activists from 42 countries have signed an open letter demanding an end to global government efforts to coerce software companies to weaken encryption via backdoors. The letter was created by digital rights group Access now, and was posted in 10 different languages to SecuretheInternet.org. 195 experts, civil society groups, and companies, including United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, signed the letter.

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Apple’s Tim Cook pushes White House to take stand on encryption

January 14, 2016

It seems Apple CEO Tim Cook isn’t shy about doling out advice to the Obama administration.

Cook is reportedly unhappy with the White House’s unwillingness to take a stance on encryption, or the scrambling of emails and other messages to keep them private. According to The Intercept, he made his concerns clear to a high-level delegation of officials during a meeting in San Jose, California, last week, asking the administration to issue a statement defending the use of unbreakable encryption.

At the center of the debate is the use of back doors. These intentional openings coded into software let law enforcement officials bypass security measures and get at your data. The FBI and some administration officials argue that the tech industry should put such back doors in place so law enforcement can access communications between terrorists and protect national security. But the industry is fighting back, in part because they’re afraid hackers could exploit those same back doors.

At a meeting to discuss counterterrorism, attended by representatives from companies including Facebook, Twitter, Google, DropBox, Microsoft and LinkedIn, Cook told White House officials they should state publicly “no back doors.”

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Firms such as Facebook and Google are widely known to comply with legal requests from police and security agencies to help tackle serious crime and terrorism. Over the past few years, they’ve attempted to be more transparent about how many of these requests they receive and comply with. When it comes to encryption though, the tech industry is keen to show that it’s putting users first, and it’s been steadfast in its refusal to introduce vulnerabilities into otherwise impenetrable systems.

As for the White House, its position on encryption is less clear. Attorney General Loretta Lynch reportedly responded to Cook by saying there needed to be “balance” between privacy and national security.

The issue isn’t going away. Last September the White House decided not to seek a legislative fix to deal with the increased use of encryption by the tech industry. A Washington Post report, however, quoted an email from the US intelligence community’s top lawyer as saying the administration should be “keeping our options open.”

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