Backlash: growing interest in counter-surveillance tools

Articles | Posted by admin November 4th, 2016

Published 18 October
The revelations about the NSA surveillance programs has prompted what some see as high-tech civil disobedience: a growing number of products and applications aiming to limit the NSA’s ability to access encrypted e-mails, obtain phone records, and listen to phone conversations.

The cyberdefense agencies of other countries and terrorist organizations have been busy for a while in efforts to evade the intrusive surveillance practices of the National Security Agency (NSA). Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance programs, which appeared to compromise the privacy rights of American citizens, have triggered a growing interest by other parties in counter-surveillance initiatives. Entrepreneurs eager to cash in on privacy concerns, policy makers, privacy advocates, software engineers, and even criminals are working on developing ways to limit the NSA’s ability to access encrypted e-mails, obtain phone records, and listen to phone conversations.


“Until this summer, people didn’t know anything about the NSA,” Amy Zegart, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, told Yahoo News.. “Their own secrecy has come back to bite them.”

The revelations have created a global market for services and products which attempt to restrict access to information by unintended parties. Developer Jeff Lyon created Flagger, a computer program which adds red flag terms like “blow up” and “bomb making” to Web addresses in order to confuse intelligence agencies such as the NSA with false leads. The program has so far been installed by 2,000 users. “The goal here is to get a critical mass of people flooding the Internet with noise and make a statement of civil disobedience,” Lyon says. He hopes the program will generate social awareness of privacy issues.

Programmer Kristin Fiskerstrand reported that the downloading rate of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), a free encryption program, have increased from 600 times a day before Snowden’s revelations to 1,380 times a day two months after the first round of leaks.

Andrew Lewman, executive director of TOR, short for The Onion Router, said that the organization has seen an increased interest in the encryption software. The U.S. government has invested in TOR development in order to help political dissidents in authoritarian countries communicate with each other safely. The documents Snowden leaked show that the NSA tried to crack TOR because it suspected that not only dissidents, but terrorists as well, were using the software.

University of Auckland associate professor Gehan Gunasekara toldthe Yahoo News that he has received “overwhelming support” for his proposal to “lead the spooks in a merry dance,” visiting radical Web sites, setting up multiple online identities, and making up hypothetical “friends.” “Pretty soon everyone in New Zealand will have to be under surveillance,” he said.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have published SafeSlinger, a smartphone app which encrypts text messages to escape surveillance by cell carriers, Internet providers, employers, or any other interested party. Activists have begun to host events with titles like CryptoParties, in which attendees bring their digital devices and learn how to download and use encrypted e-mail and secure Internet browsers. “This whole field has been made exponentially more mainstream,” said Cryptocat private instant messaging developer Nadim Kobeis.
Steven Aftergood, security and privacy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told Yahoo News that limits to surveillance must be clearly defined – and that the time to do so is now.

“Are we setting ourselves up for a total surveillance system that may be beyond the possibility of reversal once it is in place?” he asked. “We may be on a road where we don’t want to go. I think people are correct to raise an alarm now and not when we’re facing a fait accompli.”

What the World’s First Quantum Satellite Launch Means

Articles | Posted by admin November 4th, 2016

That’s one small step for man, one quantum leap for China.
China blasted the world’s first quantum communications satellite into orbit from the Gobi Desert early Tuesday.

The project signals the dawn of a potentially game-changing communications technology: quantum key distribution—a dependable system for exchanging secrets (more on this in a bit)—as beamed from space. If the experiment is successful, it could lead to considerably more secure global communications.

While many news outlets have followed Chinese state media’s cue and described the technology as “hack-proof,” a more appropriate descriptor would be “tamper resistant.” (Nothing is “hack-proof.”) Quantum crypto-systems achieve this by exploiting the quirky properties of subatomic particles


Here’s how the science works. The fundamental problem of cryptography involves exchanging keys—secret alphanumeric strings—that enable people to encode and decode messages. When two parties swap keys, they normally have no indication whether anyone has intercepted them; an interloper with stolen keys can eavesdrop on correspondence or manipulate it.

When quantum science is applied, the keys can be made to self-destruct or change if a third party interferes with their transmission. The keys are sent using pairs of entangled photons, or light particles that share a special bond, to carry the information.

The Wall Street Journal quoted an executive familiar with the technology as comparing it to “sending a message written on a soap bubble.” Touch, and it pops.

The technology is defensive in nature. China, which has increased funding for basic science research in this area over the past few years (likely in response to revelations about other countries’ hacking capabilities) played that aspect up by naming the satellite Micius in honor of an ancient Chinese philosopher who preached a philosophy of “universal love.”

Dubbed Quantum Experiments at Space Scale, the Chinese experiment is not the first time quantum key distribution has been attempted. Ground-based fiber optic networks have successfully transmitted quantum keys in the United States, Europe, and China. Other countries like the U.K. and Singapore have smaller experiments in the works.

Bringing this quantum technology to a satellite network will be a grand feat, however. The team, led by Pan Jianwei, said they would attempt to transmit quantum keys from Beijing to Vienna to test the system’s feasibility.

The experiment of beaming finicky particles over vast distances will be tricky. Yet it could vault China over the international competition in counter-surveillance tech if it does succeed.

For space-based quantum cryptography, the race is on.

Report: Too few officials knew of surveillance

Articles | Posted by (CS)d July 11th, 2009

By PAMELA HESS, Associated Press Writer Pamela Hess, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – Not enough relevant officials were aware of the size and depth of an unprecedented surveillance program started under President George W. Bush, let alone signed off on it, a team of federal inspectors general found.

The Bush White House pulled in a great quantity of information far beyond the warrantless wiretapping previously acknowledged, the IGs reported. They questioned the legal basis for the effort but shielded almost all details on grounds they’re still too secret to reveal.

George Bush

The report, mandated by Congress last year and delivered to lawmakers Friday, also says it’s unclear how much valuable intelligence the program has yielded.

On the subject of oversight, the report particularly criticizes John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general who wrote legal memos defending the policy. His boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, was not aware until March 2004 of the exact nature of the intelligence operations beyond wiretapping that he had been approving for the previous two and a half years, the report says.

The report, compiled by five inspectors general, refers to “unprecedented collection activities” by U.S. intelligence agencies under an executive order signed by Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Just what those activities involved remains classified, but the IGs pointedly say that any continued use of the secret programs must be “carefully monitored.”

Most of the intelligence leads generated under what was known as the “President’s Surveillance Program” did not have any connection to terrorism, the report said. But FBI agents told the authors that the “mere possibility of the leads producing useful information made investigating the leads worthwhile.”

The inspectors general interviewed more than 200 people inside and outside the government, but five former Bush administration officials refused to be questioned. They were Ashcroft, Yoo, former CIA Director George Tenet, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and David Addington, an aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney.

According to the report, Addington could personally decide who in the administration was “read into” — allowed access to — the classified program.

The only piece of the intelligence-gathering operation acknowledged by the Bush White House was the wiretapping-without-warrants effort. The administration acknowledged in 2005 that it had allowed the National Security Agency to intercept international communications that passed through U.S. cables without seeking court orders.

Although the report documents Bush administration policies, its fallout could be a problem for the Obama administration if it inherited any or all of the still-classified operations.

Bush brought the warrantless wiretapping program under the authority of a secret court in 2006, and Congress authorized most of the intercepts in a 2008 electronic surveillance law. The fate of the remaining and still classified aspects of the wider surveillance program is not clear from the report.

The report’s revelations came the same day that House Democrats said that CIA Director Leon Panetta had ordered one 8-year-old classified program shut down after learning lawmakers had never been apprised of its existence.

Dick Cheney

The IG report said that Bush signed off on both the warrantless wiretapping and other top-secret operations shortly after Sept. 11 in a single presidential authorization. All the programs were periodically reauthorized, but except for the acknowledged wiretapping, they “remain highly classified.”

Former Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made a terse reference to other classified programs in an August 2007 letter to Congress. But Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said that when she had asked Gonzales two years earlier if the government was conducting any other undisclosed intelligence activities, he denied it.

Robert Bork Jr., Gonzales’ spokesman, said, “It has clearly been determined that he did not intend to mislead anyone.”

In the wake of the new report, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, renewed his call Friday for a formal nonpartisan inquiry into the government’s information-gathering programs.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden — the primary architect of the program — told the report’s authors that the surveillance was “extremely valuable” in preventing further al-Qaida attacks. Hayden said the operations amounted to an “early warning system” allowing top officials to make critical judgments and carefully allocate national security resources to counter threats.

Information gathered by the secret program played a limited role in the FBI’s overall counterterrorism efforts, according to the report. Very few CIA analysts even knew about the program and therefore were unable to fully exploit it in their counterterrorism work, the report said.

The report questioned the legal advice used by Bush to set up the program, pinpointing omissions and questionable legal memos written by Yoo, in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The Justice Department withdrew the memos years ago.

The report says Yoo’s analysis approving the program ignored a law designed to restrict the government’s authority to conduct electronic surveillance during wartime, and did so without fully notifying Congress. And it said flaws in Yoo’s memos later presented “a serious impediment” to recertifying the program.

Yoo insisted that the president’s wiretapping program had only to comply with Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure — but the report said Yoo ignored the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which had previously overseen federal national security surveillance.

House Democrats are pressing for legislation that would expand congressional access to secret intelligence briefings, but the White House has threatened to veto it.