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Posts Tagged ‘#encryption’

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Secret US flight flew over Scottish airspace to capture Snowden

February 3, 2016

THE UK GOVERNMENT is facing demands to reveal the details of a secret flight through Scottish airspace which was at the centre of a plot to capture whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The plane, which passed above the Outer Hebrides, the Highlands and Aberdeenshire, was dispatched from the American east coast on June 24 2013, the day after Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow. The craft was used in controversial US ‘rendition’ missions.

Reports by Scottish journalist Duncan Campbell claim the flight, travelling well above the standard aviation height at 45,000 feet and without a filed flight plan, was part of a mission to capture Snowden following his release of documents revealing mass surveillance by US and UK secret services.

That the flight passed over Scotland, airspace regulated by the UK, has raised questions over UK complicity in a covert mission to arrest Snowden and whether any police, aviation or political authorities in Scotland were made aware of the flight path.

Alex Salmond, the SNP foreign affairs spokesman and Scotland’s First Minister when the flight took place, has called for full transparency from the UK Government over the case.

He said: “As a matter of course and courtesy, any country, particularly an ally, should be open about the purposes of a flight and the use of foreign airspace or indeed airports.”

“What we need to know now is, was this information given to the UK Government at the time. If so, then why did they give permission? If not, then why not? As a minimum requirement, the UK authorities should not allow any activity in breach of international law in either its airspace or its airports.

“That is what an independent Scotland should insist on. Of course, since no rendition actually took place in this instance, it is a moot point as to whether intention can constitute a breach of human rights. However, we are entitled to ask what the UK Government knew and when did they know it.”

The flight took place after US federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Snowden on June 14. Regular meetings with the FBI and CIA, convened by US Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco, then planned Snowden’s arrest for alleged breaches of the Espionage Act, according to The Washington Post.

New documents, revealed by Danish media group Denfri, confirm that the N977GA plane was held at a Copenhagen airport for “state purposes of a non-commercial nature”. Two days later Danish authorities received an “urgent notification” from the US Department of Justice to cooperate in arresting Snowden.

N977GA was previously identified by Dave Willis in Air Force Monthly as an aircraft used for CIA rendition flights of US prisoners. This included the extradition of cleric Abu Hamza from the UK. Snowden accused the Danish Government of conspiring in his arrest. In response to flight reports, he said: “Remember when the Prime Minister Rasmussen said Denmark shouldn’t respect asylum law in my case? Turns out he had a secret.”

Snowden was behind the largest leak of classified information in history, revealing spying activities that were later deemed illegal on both sides of the Atlantic. He was elected rector at the University of Glasgow in February 2014, yet is unable to fully carry out his duties.

Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, echoed calls for an inquiry into the flight: “It will certainly raise suspicions that an aircraft previously identified as involved in rendition flew through UK airspace at that time. We have a right to know what UK and Scottish authorities knew about this flight given it is implicated in the US response to whistleblowing about global surveillance.”

ATTEMPTS to arrest Snowden have failed as Russian authorities refused to comply. However, pressure from US authorities made it dangerous for Snowden to travel from Russia to Latin America, where Ecuador, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Venezuela have all offered him asylum.

The presidential plane of Bolivian leader Evo Morales was forced to ground in Vienna, after four EU nations refused airspace access on the mistaken belief that Snowden was hidden on board.

In 2013 Police Scotland launched an investigation into whether other US rendition flights – where prisoners were taken to blacklist torture sites – used Scottish airports or airspace.

In 2006 aviation expert Chris Yates said it was likely that a US rendition flight had passed through Scottish airspace to Syria, in a case where the prisoner, Maher Arar, said he was tortured.

In 2008 then foreign secretary David Miliband admitted that UK airports had been used for US rendition flights and apologised for previous government denials.

American politics lecturer John MacDonald, director of foreign policy group the Scottish Global Forum, said: “Given the constitutional arrangements, there are a number of areas in which the Scottish Government may well have interests or concerns but will be excluded because security arrangements with the US are deemed ‘out of bounds’ for Scotland.

“However, if you take serious the supposition that all responsible governments have a moral and legal obligation to raise questions about flights which may be involved in dubious security and intelligence activities, then the Scottish Government may well have an interest in – or even be obliged to –raise questions.

“Questions have already been raised about the nature of military and intelligence air traffic through Scotland and if this activity is raising concerns within Scottish civil society – and it seems to be – then it is surely incumbent upon the Scottish Government to raise the issue with London.”

National Air Traffic Control Systems (Nats), who control flight access to UK airspace, said rendition flights are an issue for the UK Government. In response to questions, the UK Government refused to provide details on attempts to arrest Snowden or on the passage of the N977GA flight.

The Scottish Government also avoided a direct statement on the case on legal grounds. A spokesman said: “There is already an ongoing Police Scotland investigation, directed by the Lord Advocate. This investigation will seek to gather all available evidence of rendition flights using Scottish airports. As this is a live investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

During his two and a half years in Moscow, Snowden has caused diplomatic ruptures and a worldwide debate on privacy and state security. In October 2015 the European Parliament voted narrowly, in a non-binding motion, to drop charges against him in recognition of “his status as [a] whistle-blower and international human rights defender”.

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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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Released Documents Show NSA Actually Surprised To Find Itself Portrayed Negatively In Popular Culture

January 27, 2016

The NSA may know lots of stuff about lots of people, but it’s still fairly clueless about how the world works. Documents obtained by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski show the NSA was shocked to find it hadn’t been portrayed more favorably in a major motion picture.
The National Security Agency attempted a public relations makeover in 1998 via the Jerry Bruckheimer–produced spy thriller Enemy of the State, but the agency was disappointed it was portrayed as the “bad guys” in the film, internal emails between agency officials obtained by BuzzFeed News through the Freedom of Information Act show.

One employee wrote in 1998, “Unfortunately, the truth isn’t always as riveting as fiction and creative license may mean that ‘the NSA,’ as portrayed in a given production, bears little resemblance to the place where we all work.”
Even in the halcyon pre-Snowden days, it was unlikely a massive government spy agency would be depicted as “lawful neutral,” much less “good” in any form of entertainment media. Shadowy agencies make for great conspiracy theories and potentially riveting entertainment (as for “Enemy of the State,” YMMV…). Certainly, it’s unlikely that the NSA would kill a congressional representative for opposing surveillance expansion and it probably doesn’t have any “goons” to send out to intimidate witnesses (that’s more of a CIA thing…). But for the NSA to expect it would be portrayed as the heroes — despite holding meetings with the producers before the film’s release — is a pretty good indication of how isolated it is from the general public.

This brief burst of reality led to a facesaving effort by the NSA, spearheaded by Michael Hayden, who invited CNN to profile the agency to counteract the negative portrayal. Fighting pop culture with pitched puff pieces is a terrible way to rehabilitate a reputation, but that’s the NSA for you. It’s never going to win hearts and minds. (I was originally going to add some qualifiers to the previous sentence but couldn’t find any that worked.) Any effort expended in this area is wasted.

Even more hilarious than the NSA’s dismay at this completely predictable pop culture portrayal is its employees’ complaints about violated privacy.
“I was standing in the parking lot staring like an idiot, wondering why this helicopter with some strange object underneath it was hovering over me,” one employee complained after a production helicopter flew above the agency to get establishing shots. “Will Touchstone be getting in touch with me so I can get paid for my appearance in this movie? Because I have no intention of allowing my image to be used for free,” the employee concluded, unaware of public access laws…

One employee fretted that their car would now be seen in the film, while another complained that his window blinds were up during filming.
Yes, you can fly an aircraft over the NSA headquarters and no one can do anything about it. As long as you follow the FAA guidelines, you can capture establishing shots or vehicles in the parking lot or any “idiot” staring at your aircraft. The NSA is not a military base and very little about what goes on inside can be determined from 500 feet above the building.

Still, as Kaczynski notes, the negative portrayal of the agency and the intrusion of unwanted aerial “surveillance” did little to stifle employee enthusiasm for the upcoming film. Unfortunately, the released documents do not contain post-viewing comments from NSA staff after they’d shelled out $5 for the dubious privilege of watching their big screen counterparts murder a congressman and intimidate a witness.

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Data and Goliath: The War Against Government Surveillance Could Be Lost Forever

January 25, 2016

At the end of 2015, tyranny was codified into law with the ratification of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a name that pays lip service to the nefarious and deceptive purpose that the law really embodies. CISA is a surveillance law of the worst kind, bent on circumnavigating current legislation and protections to create a culture of fear and paranoia all in order to prevent people from standing for privacy.

CISA is the most recent incarnation of a Congressional pretext to disguise the burgeoning federal authority to access information without warrants under the guise of “information sharing”. Designed to allow organizations to “share information more easily in order to prevent cyber attacks”, CISA actually creates massive loopholes that allow companies to share any information with the government reportedly without legal consequence.

Corporations can and will be forced to hand over data circumnavigating current privacy laws under the guise of “cybersecurity”. This information is automatically shared with the National Security Agency (NSA), who has no restrictions on how the data is used.

CISA was valiantly fought against since the legislation was proposed in 2011, and it took an insidious form of law smuggling by the sponsors to get it approved in the House after the Senate ratified it in October. Last year, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced a newly minted version of the omnibus bill, an agreement that must pass because it funds the federal government well into the next year. CISA was ensconced inside the legislation, ensuring that it was passed after being stripped of the weak privacy protections that initial drafts did contain.

The full text of the omnibus bill (2000 pages) was released on December 14th, with CISA buried on page 1728. The vote was set for four days later, giving representatives no time for a debate on a vital budget bill that also had provisions about Syrian refugees, oil exports and the Obamacare “Cadillac tax”.

Even worse, the final vote was carefully calculated to minimize public fallout as it was scheduled on the last Friday before Christmas to keep it out of the day’s news.

With a swift stroke of the pen by President Obama, thanks to some help by some unscrupulous Congressmen, the American people let tyranny win and stayed completely silent.

United States Representative Justin Amash later asserted after the vote that “many of my colleagues remain unaware” about a bill that he calls the “worst surveillance bill since the Patriot Act” because they may have “been misled into believing this bill is about cybersecurity.”

The provisions within CISA ensure that citizens will have no way of knowing if their data has been shared by corporations or federal agencies. The government now has the power to use the information it acquires to prosecute any type of criminal activity and does not have to scrub personal information unrelated to “cyber threats”. Legal immunity to a variety of actors is rampant through the legislation – only ensuring that data will continue to be stolen from millions of citizens, organisations and businesses and used against them.

The extrajudicial cyberwar against the personal and everyday information of millions continues to wage unchecked at will.

Fortunately, some steps can be taken to draw a line in the sand as CISA provisions only apply to American companies or programs hosted in the United States.

Using privacy services such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and programs that emphasise end to end encryption provide protections that stand strong via mathematical laws. Using internet browsers that do not collect data and practicing basic internet security are some of the simplest ways to begin to protect yourself. The above is not an all encompassing list of steps, rather it is a laundry list of how anyone can begin to regain their privacy while they are online.

The best way to fight against CISA and its draconian siblings is to create a culture of encryption among all citizens.

Overall, CISA only expands the government’s surveillance program and will be used to investigate, threaten and incarcerate more citizens as human rights and protections are pitted against security.

The warning signs are clear.
Tyranny continues to creep surreptitiously into the American consciousness.
The only thing that we will remember is the silence of those who could of made a change.

Don’t be on the wrong side of history.

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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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