Items tagged with NSA

In a lot of ways, the public is resigned to the fact that almost nothing is truly "private." We're given identification numbers from birth, nearly everything about us is volunteered online, and even our mobile devices have GPS modules in them. In a lot of ways, those things are worth the hassle, and worth giving up some level of privacy. But secret, unlawful data collection could turn into a larger deal in the future, at least according to Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith. Per Smith, we could be looking at a "bleak" future if the privacy of citizens isn't elevated in importance. To quote: "I want law enforcement to do its job in an effective way pursuant to the rule of law. If we can’t... Read more...
Even when the government conducts secret activities, those ventures have to be funded, and a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives last night took a swipe at the NSA’s domestic spying practices by cutting some of its funding. According to Ars Technica, Representatives James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) authored an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that “none of the funds made available by this Act may be used by an officer or employee of the United States to query a collection of foreign intelligence information acquired under section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1881a) using a United States... Read more...
Ever since 9/11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, the federal government has pursued an aggressive set of data collection policies and surveillance practices. Edward Snowden's leaks last year may have raised public awareness of many of these events, but simply being aware of practices doesn't do a thing to stop them. Recent court decisions, however, could be a sign that the wall of secrecy the NSA has constructed to veil its actions is cracking -- with profound long-term implications. First, earlier this week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in United States v. Davis that cell phone users do have an expectation of privacy and that they do not "reasonably" understand that information... Read more...
When it comes to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, opinions vary, with some people viewing him a traitor to the U.S. and others viewing him as a hero for shining a light on the shadowy practices of the government. Former vice president Al Gore is on record with his take on Snowden, and although he wouldn’t specifically say that he’s a whistleblower, he did make it clear that he didn’t believe Snowden was a traitor. “What he revealed in the course of violating important laws included violations of the US constitution that were way more serious than the crimes he committed,” he told the Guardian. Edward Snowden (Credit: The Guardian) Further, Gore said that what Snowden... Read more...
Facebook rolled out a new mobile feature that uses your device’s microphone to “hear” a song you’re listening to or a TV show you’re watching so you can append that item to a status post. Predictably, a lot of people believe that this is a feature designed for snooping and are not happy that it exists. They’re so unhappy, in fact, that they’ve created an online petition to get Facebook to remove the feature from the Facebook app. To date, there are over 580,000 signatures. “Facebook just announced a new feature to its app, which will let it listen to our conversations and surroundings through our own phones’ microphone. Talk about a Big Brother... Read more...
Last week, the ACLU was scheduled to meet with local police in Sarasota Florida to discuss the use of cell phone interception towers, dubbed stingrays, that are an increasingly common feature of federal and local investigations. A stingray is a fake cell phone tower that law enforcement can configure to temporarily replace the real towers a device would normally connect to. In an astonishing turn of events, the US Marshals Service has acted to prevent the meeting from taking place -- seizing all of the relevant records and claiming that they're the property of the Marshals (and by extension, the US government). Meanwhile, a Tallahassee judge reviewing a similar request for access to what ought... Read more...
One of the most troubling facts that came out of Edward Snowden's disclosures last year was the degree to which the government has relied on National Security Letters to compel companies to reveal information about their clients without producing a warrant. Many NSLs were accompanied by non-disclosure orders that forbade the receiving company from revealing to the accused that their information had been demanded. Microsoft had previously gone to court over such tactics and today, the details of the company's strategic victory became public for the first time. Last year, the FBI demanded information on an unidentified Office 365 enterprise customer and included a non-disclosure requirement alongside... Read more...
From Apple to Yahoo, tech companies have a great deal of our data in their hands, and thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know that the government wants as much of it as possible--and has been too successful in that regard. In some cases, there’s just nothing much a company can do when the NSA comes knocking with a warrant, but there is a spectrum of cooperation, protection, and advocacy that various companies employ. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has created a list of many tech companies and charted out a star rating system with six categories: -Requires a warrant for content -Tells users about government data requests -Publishes transparency reports -Publishes law enforcement... Read more...
Earlier this week, Apple released an updated set of legal guidelines spelling out exactly what it can and cannot access on your iDevice, what material it will turn over to the police, and under which circumstances it will surrender it. What's particularly interesting is the split response we've seen from different corners of the Internet. Everything Apple does tends to generate attention, but this particular set of announcements is getting a great deal of press -- and two very different narratives have emerged over what it means. Some readers and authors have reacted rather poorly to news that Apple can access user information even without knowing the passcode key. As my colleague, Rob Williams... Read more...
As Seth covered earlier today, Bloomberg has accused the NSA of benefiting from the Heartbleed OpenSSL bug. The NSA denies this in fairly strong terms. I'd like to draw attention to a different facet of the topic -- first, by discussing the semantics of the NSA's denial and then the wider impact of how that denial is perceived and what it means for the tech community as a whole. The NSA's Denial is Surprisingly Straightforward For the past year, the NSA's responses to the Snowden leaks have followed the same strategy: Either the organization claims that its activities are legal or it denies engaging in a similar (but distinct) activity from the one it's actually accused of actually perpetrating.... Read more...
The news of two truly horrible security breaches broke this year; one was the NSA’s shadowy data grabbing and surveillance program, and the other was the Heartbleed bug that left about two-thirds of the Internet utterly exposed to any bad actor. According to a Bloomberg report, these two stories have merged, as “two people familiar with the matter” have told the outlet that the NSA has known about the Heartbleed bug for at least two years and has regularly exploited it to gather intelligence. In an emailed statement to Bloomberg, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said, “Reports that NSA or any other part of the government were aware of the so-called Heartbleed... Read more...
As both the general public and CEOs of Internet companies seethe in the wake of NSA spying allegations, some researchers at MIT are working on a tool called Mylar that they claim would essentially spy-proof web applications. The pain point, according to the team, is the server. Every web application relies on servers for processing and storing data, but there are people with (legitimate) keys to that data as well as hackers and government snoopers. “Mylar protects data confidentiality even when an attacker gets full access to servers,” reads the researchers’ website. “Mylar stores only encrypted data on the server, and decrypts data only in users' browsers.” Mylar... Read more...
For all the ire the NSA’s spying practices have fomented among users and Internet companies alike, the revelations are prompting some positive changes. For Gmail users, those changes are coming in the form of better encryption on Google’s part. Although it’s been the default option since 2010, Google says that Gmail will completely run over HTTPS when you send or check mail. Further, every single Gmail message will be encrypted internally. “This ensures that your messages are safe not only when they move between you and Gmail's servers, but also as they move between Google's data centers—something we made a top priority after last summer’s revelations,”... Read more...
Google has had enough of government surveillance. The search giant has been encrypting web searches in China to more effectively circumvent the government’s sensors, and that encrypting is rolling out globally, too. Within months, all Google searches made over a modern browser will be encrypted. Make no mistake, this encryption is a not-so-subtle one-finger salute to the NSA, too. We’ve said before that when the scope of the NSA’s spying program came to light and its demands for customer data from Internet agencies became heavy-handed and shadowy, the agency poked the bear. Although Internet companies aren’t necessarily the “good guys” looking out for us and... Read more...
A new comprehensive writeup at The Intercept claims to reveal additional details of the NSA's plans to infiltrate and conquer the Internet -- as well as its desire to bring virtually all data, everywhere, within its reach. A year ago, this kind of claim would've sounded like hyperbolic conspiracy theory, but no longer. Whether the NSA could ever effectively analyze that information is very much an open question, but the organization has launched a huge number of programs to pursue these ends. Own The Web What The Intercept report details is the NSA's plan for infiltrating target networks, right down to individual PCs. There are a dizzying number of codenames -- TURBINE is the automated system... Read more...
It's with panels like Glenn Greenwald's that makes me regret not making it down to the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. At this particular event, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was broadcast from Russia to answer a number of questions that Twitter users had for him, and in the end, one of the biggest things to take away from his discussion is that he has no regrets whatsoever about the leaks he coordinated. It's actually quite interesting that both Greenwald and Snowden were broadcast at SXSW, as Greenwald is one of three journalists that Snowden chose to give access to the enormous collection of NSA documents; many, presumably, which have yet to be even tackled given their sheer number. When... Read more...
The numbers from Pinterest’s data request transparency report are either impressive or laughable, depending on your point of view. Although the tech industry is rising up in force in reaction against the NSA’s spying tactics and forceful and shadowy means of “requesting” data from major Internet companies with FISA, it appears that Pinterest users have little to worry about. The total number of user accounts that agencies requested data from? Thirteen. Thirteen user accounts, and those requests consisted of seven warrants and five subpoenas. All of the requests came from U.S. agencies, with all but one coming from local or state agencies. On three of those occasions, however,... Read more...
The United States Government has filed a lawsuit against Sprint Communications requesting triple damages to the tune of $63M. Sprint's crime? Overcharging the NSA, FBI, and various other government agencies for the cost of spying on millions of Americans and turning their data over to the government. This is another "unintended consequence" of the Snowden revelations last year, though likely not one anyone anticipated. In the past, the government would've had no choice but to conduct this kind of action behind the tightest of closed doors, lest secrets leak that would reveal to the American people exactly how monitored our telecommunications are. Now, in the wake of the Snowden leaks, there's... Read more...
If you’ve ever wondered how exactly NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was able to access as much as he did, it’s apparently because he had help. According to an L.A. Times report, at least three other NSA workers helped him--wittingly or not. An NSA memo says that one of the three was an active-duty military member, while another was a civilian contractor like Snowden. No details were revealed about those two, including whether or not they worked with Snowden at his NSA location in Hawaii, but it does say that they have both been barred from accessing NSA systems since then. Edward Snowden (Credit: The Guardian) The third individual was a civilian employee who, it turns out, let Snowden... Read more...
It didn't take long after NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed his employer's nefarious deeds for other nations to begin reevaluating how they go about working with the US. As a side-effect, some now wonder if the US has a little too much influence on certain matters that affect the entire world, such as with the overseeing of the basic design of the Internet. ICANN is the "Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers", and its responsibilities include assigning new top-level domains (.com, .eu, .co.uk, et cetera), managing DNS at its root, assigning IP addresses, and more. Simply put, ICANN has quite a bit of control over the Internet, and as the agency is based in the US and supposedly... Read more...
Last summer, and not too long after Edward Snowden exposed the extent of NSA's spying tactics, The Guardian newspaper in the UK was forced to destroy all of the data that had been provided to it. At the time, I don't remember this news gaining much traction, but it's an important blip on the timeline to note. No longer did Britain want one of its most popular newspapers ruffling the feathers of the US. When Snowden decided to bring his information to light, it was made sure that the data wasn't just in one location - most people about to drop an epic bombshell would no doubt ensure the same. Well, despite multiple copies of the data floating around, Britain's intelligence agency GCHQ decided... Read more...
You'd have to imagine that the birds in Angry Birds are some of the angriest around, but last night, a "friend" of the hacking group Syrian Electronic Army saw it fit to add to their angst. For an undetermined amount of time, an image was plastered on the main Angry Birds site that changed the name to "Spying Birds". For added dramatic effect, an NSA logo was affixed to the lead character. The Syrian Electronic Army states that the hacker behind this is "anti-NSA", which is of little surprise given the attack. The group announced the attack (as a proxy, apparently) on Twitter, although judging by the comments, it appears that the website went back to normal mere minutes later. Either the SEA... Read more...
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