Some current aspects of information-technology spying

Submitted: Jul 10, 2014
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

 We once had a friend, who might be described as a member in memorium of the Badlands Journal editorial board, who spent the last 25 years of his life in Silicon Valley devising a system for collecting and organizing information based entirely on 4X6 index cards. Don Quixote had nothing on Peter Gillingham. Curiously enough, his technique for storing and retrieving vast amounts of information on index cards is probably more secure than most computer storage and retrieval systems around today.

The Badlands Journal editors are grateful to the Internet for providing a greater means of communication about our concerns, mainly local, than has ever existed. Nevertheless, witless as we are about the inner workings of the 'net, we cannot help but be alarmed at some of the recent revelations concerning spying by the US government on people here, there and apparently everywhere with the proactive connivance of various private high tech corporations. Here are three articles that address various aspects of the problem this week, -- blj

 

7-10-14

RT.com

Germany expels CIA Berlin chief over NSA spying

http://rt.com/news/171828-germany-expel-cia-chief/

Germany is expelling the CIA chief in Berlin in retaliation for the latest espionage scandal.

The expulsion comes shortly after two alleged US agents were unmasked, suspected of acting as double agents within the state security apparatus, and passing secrets to US intelligence contacts.

The move was “a reaction to persistent failure to work together in efforts towards clarification,”according to the chief of the Parliamentary Control Panel.

The two new cases, which came in quick succession of one another, increase the strain on already tense relations after the revelations made about the extent of global NSA espionage in June, 2013.

Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the spy’s presence in Germany, stating that when common sense is switched on, “spying is ultimately a waste of force,” reported Der Spiegle.

She added that in 21st century intelligence work, there should be a strong focus on the essentials rather than that which is just technically possible – to the point that “one can’t see the wood because of all the trees,” Merkel said.

“The order arose against the backdrop of the ongoing investigation by the General Prosecutor's Office, in addition to existing issues in recent months surrounding the actions of US intelligence agencies in Germany,” said the document.

The US stated on Thursday that it was imperative that the two nations continued to cooperate on intelligence and security matters.

"We have seen these reports and have no comment on a purported intelligence matter. However, our security and intelligence relationship with Germany is a very important one and it keeps Germans and Americans safe," White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told Reuters.

"It is essential that cooperation continue in all areas and we will continue to be in touch with the German government in appropriate channels," she added. 

A 31-year-old intelligence officer was arrested last week, and further reports on Wednesdayindicated that a German soldier was also being investigated.

According to German newspaper Die Welt, the soldier was said to have made “intensive contacts” with alleged US intelligence officials, and had been under surveillance by Military Intelligence (MAD) for some time.

The US has not yet denied allegations that the German intelligence official was passing classified information to the NSA.

In a report published on Monday, two unidentified government officials told Reuters of the CIA’s involvement in the operation, which led to the recruitment of the 31-year-old suspected spy, who is now in the custody of German officials.

The man was alleged to have passed the Americans 218 secret documents in exchange for € 25,000 ($34,100), and having been a double agent for them for two years through meetings with his contact in Austria and passing on secret documents on a USB stick.

Last October, Merkel was enraged to learn she was allegedly on the NSA’s tapping list since 2002. The Chancellor called the alleged spying, which became known thanks to Edward Snowden’s leaks,"unacceptable."

A German parliamentary committee has since been holding hearings on the NSA’s spying activities in Germany.

“It’s very embarrassing for the political leaders in Germany to have Americans spying on the Chancellor, or Americans spying on the Defense Ministry, or Americans spying on the German Intelligence service, or on the parliamentary investigations – it’s a big embarrassment for the German political elite,” German investigative journalist John Goetz told RT. 

"Germany is under a lot of pressure...not to do something. From German standards, they did quite a lot..."he said. 

“The German and American security systems are so interwoven you can’t even separate them – they’re basically the same infrastructure, the same architecture of security. So, if Germany was to say they don’t want to, it’s very hard for them not to because there are so many institutions that are interwoven.”

 

 

7-9-14

ProPublica 

Here’s One Way to Land on the NSA’s Watch List

If you downloaded the privacy software Tor in 2011, you may have been flagged to be spied on.

by Julia Angwin and Mike Tigas

http://www.propublica.org/article/heres-one-way-to-land-on-the-nsas-watch-list?utm_source=et&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter

Last week, German journalists revealedthat the National Security Agency has a program to collect information about people who use privacy-protecting services, including popular anonymizing software called Tor. But it's not clear how many users have been affected.

So we did a little sleuthing, and found that the NSA's targeting list corresponds with the list of directory servers used by Tor between December 2010 and February 2012 – including two servers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tor users connect to the directory servers when they first launch the Tor service.

That means that if you downloaded Tor during 2011, the NSA may have scooped up your computer's IP address and flagged you for further monitoring. The Tor Project is a nonprofit that receives significant funding from the U.S. government.

The revelations were among the first evidence of specific spy targets inside the United States. And they have been followed by yet more evidence. The Intercept revealed this week that the government monitored email of five prominent Muslim-Americans, including a former Bush Administration official.

It's not clear if, or how extensively, the NSA spied on the users of Tor and other privacy services.

After the news, one of Tor's original developers, Roger Dingledine, reassured users that they most likely remained anonymous while using the service: "Tor is designed to be robust to somebody watching traffic at one point in the network – even a directory authority." It is more likely that users could have been spied on when they were not using Tor.

For its part, the NSA says it only collects information for valid foreign intelligence purposes and that it "minimizes" information it collects about U.S. residents. In other words, NSA may have discarded any information it obtained about U.S. residents who downloaded Tor.

However, according to a recent report by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the NSA's minimization procedures vary by program. Under Prism, for example, the NSA shares unminimized data with the FBI and CIA.

In addition, the NSA can also later search the communications of those it has inadvertently caught in its Prism dragnet, a tactic some have called a " backdoor" search. It's not clear if similar backdoors exist for other types of data such as IP addresses.

In response to the Tor news, the NSA said it is following President Obama's January directive to not conduct surveillance for the purpose of "suppressing or burdening criticism or dissent, or for disadvantaging persons based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion."

[Disclosure: Mike Tigas is the developer of an app that uses Tor, called theOnion Browser.]

We updated our chart of NSA revelations to include monitoring of privacy software.


For the geeks, here are the IP addresses of the were listed in the NSA Xkeyscore code and when they were added or removed from the list of Tor directory servers:

193.23.244.244
Added: Fri, 12 Feb 2010 15:31:08 -0400 (14:31 -0500)

194.109.206.212
Added: Sat, 8 Apr 2006 17:03:49 -0400 (21:03 +0000)

86.59.21.38
Added: Sat, 5 Nov 2005 16:20:51 -0400 (20:20 +0000)

213.115.239.118
Added: Thu, 10 Jun 2010 10:56:08 -0400 (16:56 +0200)
Removed: Wed, 29 Feb 2012 14:22:41 -0400 (13:22 -0500)

212.112.245.170
Added: Thu, 16 Dec 2010 08:10:19 -0400 (13:10 +0100)

128.31.0.39
Added Wed, 14 Oct 2009 19:36:08 -0400 (19:36 -0400)

216.224.124.114
Added: Wed, 7 Nov 2007 17:20:45 -0400 (21:20 +0000)
Removed: on Wed, 4 Apr 2012 19:51:04 -0400 (01:51 +0200)

208.83.223.34
Added: Mon, 10 Aug 2009 01:32:51 -0400 (01:32 -0400)

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Julia Angwin

Julia Angwin is a senior reporter at ProPublica. From 2000 to 2013, she was a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where she led a privacy investigative team that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting in 2011 and won a Gerald Loeb Award in 2010.

 

7-8-14

Alternet/Salon

Let’s Nationalize Amazon and Google: Publicly Funded Technology Built Big Tech

They're huge and ruthless and define our lives. They're close to monopolies. Let's make them public utilities.

By RJ Eskow

http://www.alternet.org/corporate-accountability-and-workplace/lets-nationalize-amazon-and-google-publicly-funded-technology?akid=12002.259010.1jUqG_&rd=1&src=newsletter1010245&t=11 

They’re huge, they’re ruthless, and they touch every aspect of our daily lives. Corporations like Amazon and Google keep expanding their reach and their power. Despite a history of abuses, so far the Justice Department has declined to take antitrust actions against them. But there’s another solution.

Is it time to manage and regulate these companies as public utilities?

That argument’s already been made about broadband access. In her book “Captive Justice,” law professor  Susan Crawford argues that “high-speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago.”

Broadband as a public utility? If not for corporate corruption of our political process, that would seem like an obvious solution. Instead, our nation’s wireless access is the  slowest and costliest in the world.

But why stop there? Policymakers have traditionally considered three elements when evaluating the need for a public utility: production, transmission, and distribution. Broadband is transmission. What about production and distribution?

The Big Tech mega-corporations have developed what Al Gore calls the “ Stalker Economy,” manipulating and monitoring as they go. But consider: They were created with publicly funded technologies, and prospered as the result of indulgent policies and lax oversight. They’ve achieved monopoly or near-monopoly status, are spying on us to an extent that’s unprecedented in human history, and have the potential to alter each and every one of our economic, political, social and cultural transactions.

In fact, they’re already doing it.

Public utilities? It’s a thought experiment worth conducting.

Big Tech was created with publicly developed technology.

No matter how they spin it, these corporations were not created in garages or by inventive entrepreneurs. The core technology behind them is the Internet, a publicly funded platform for which they pay no users’ fee. In fact, they do everything they can to  avoid paying their taxes.

Big Tech’s use of public technology means that it operates in a technological “commons,” which they are using solely for its own gain, without regard for the public interest. Meanwhile the United States government devotes considerable taxpayer resource to protecting them – from patent infringement, cyberterrorism and other external threats.

Big Tech’s services have become a necessity in modern society.

Businesses would be unable to participate in modern society without access to the services companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook provide. These services have become public marketplaces.

For individuals, these entities have become the public square where social interactions take place, as well as the marketplace where they purchase goods.

They’re at or near monopoly status – and moving fast.

Google has 80 percent of the search market in the United States, and an even larger share of key overseas markets.  Google’s browsers have now surpassed Microsoft’s in usage across all devices. It has monopoly-like influence over online news, as  William Baker noted in the Nation. Its YouTube subsidiary dominates the U.S. online-video market, with nearly double the views of its closest competitor. (Roughly  83 percent of the Americans who watched a video online in April went to YouTube.)

Even Microsoft’s  Steve Ballmer argued that Google is a “monopoly” whose activities were “worthy of discussion with competition authority.” He should know.

As a social platform, Facebook has no real competitors. Amazon’s  book business dominates the market. E-books are now 30 percent of the total book market, and its Kindle e-books account for 65 percent of e-book sales.  Nearly one book in five is an Amazon product – and that’s not counting Amazon’s sales of physical books. It has become such a behemoth that it is able to command discounts of more than 50 percent from major publishers like Random House.

They abuse their power.

The bluntness with which Big Tech firms abuse their monopoly power is striking. Google has said that it will soon begin  blocking YouTube videos from popular artists like Radiohead and Adele unless independent record labels sign deals with its upcoming music streaming service (at what are presumably disadvantageous rates).   Amazon’s war on publishers like Hachette is another sign of Big Tech arrogance.

But what is equally striking about these moves is the corporations’ disregard for basic customer service. Because YouTube’s dominance of the video market is so large, Google is confident that even frustrated music fans have nowhere to go. Amazon is so confident of its dominance that it retaliated against Hachette by removing order buttons when a Hachette book came up (which users must find maddening) and lied about the availability of Hachette books when a customer attempts to order one. It also altered its search process for recommendations to freeze out Hachette books and direct users to non-Hachette authors.

Amazon even suggested its customers use other vendors if they’re unhappy, a move that my Salon colleague  Andrew Leonard described as “nothing short of amazing – and troubling.”

David Stratfield of the New York Times asked, “ When does discouragement become misrepresentation?” One logical answer: When you tell customers a product isn’t available, even though it is, or rig your sales mechanism to prevent customers from choosing the item they want.

And now Amazon’s using  some of the same tactics against Warner Home Video.

They got there with our help.

As we’ve already noted, Internet companies are using taxpayer-funded technology to make billions of dollars from the taxpayers – without paying a licensing fee. As we  reportedearlier, Amazon was the beneficiary of tax exemptions that allowed it to reach its current monopolistic size.

Google and the other technology companies have also benefited from tax policies and other forms of government indulgence. Contrary to popular misconception, Big Tech corporations aren’t solely the products of ingenuity and grit. Each has received, and continues to receive, a lot of government largess.

The real “commodity” is us.

Most of Big Tech’s revenues come from the use of our personal information in its advertising business. Social media entries, Web-surfing patterns, purchases, even our private and personal communications add value to these corporations. They don’t make money by selling us a product.  We are the product, and we are sold to third parties for profit.

Public utilities are often created when the resource being consumed isn’t a “commodity” in the traditional sense. “We” aren’t an ordinary resource. Like air and water, the value of our information is something that should be publicly shared – or, at a minimum, publicly managed.

Our privacy is dying … or already dead.

“We know where you are,” says Google CEO  Eric Schmidt. “We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

Facebook tracks your visits to the website of any corporate Facebook “partner,” stores that information, and uses it to track and manipulate the ads you see. Its mobile app also has a new, “creepy” feature that turns on your phone’s microphone, analyzes what you’re listening to or watching, and is capable of posting updates to your status like “Listening to Albert King” or “Watching ‘Orphan Black .’

Google tracks your search activity, an activity with a number of disturbing implications. (A competing browser that does not track searches called DuckDuckGo offers an  illustrated guide to its competitors’ practices.)  If you use its Chrome browser, Google tracks your website visits too (unless you’re in “private” mode.)

Yasha Levine, who is tracking corporate data spying in his “ Surveillance Valley” series,notes that “True end-to-end encryption would make our data inaccessible to Google, and grind its intel extraction apparatus to a screeching halt.” As the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian points out: “It’s very, very difficult to deploy privacy protective policies with the current business model of ad supported services.”

As Levine  notes, the widely publicized revelation that Big Data companies track rape victims was just the tip of the iceberg. They also track “anorexia, substance abuse, AIDS and HIV … Bedwetting (Enuresis), Binge Eating Disorder, Depression, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Genital Herpes, Genital Warts, Gonorrhea, Homelessness, Infertility, Syphilis … the list goes on and on and on and on.”

Given its recent hardball tactics, here’s a little-known development that should concern more people: Amazon also hosts 37 percent of the nation’s  cloud computing services, which means it has access to the inner workings of the software that runs all sorts of businesses – including ones that handle your personal data.

For all its protestations, Microsoft is no different when it comes to privacy. The camera and microphone on its  Xbox One devices were initially designed to be left on at all times, and it refused to change that policy until purchasers protested.

Privacy, like water or energy, is a public resource. As the Snowden revelations have taught us, all such resources are at constant risk of government abuse.  The Supreme Court just banned warrantless searches of smartphones – by law enforcement. Will we be granted similar protections from Big Tech corporations?

Freedom of information is at risk.

Google tracks your activity and customizes search results, a process that can filter or distort your perception of the world around you.  What’s more, this “personalized search results” feature leads you back to information sources you’ve used before, which potentially narrows our ability to discover new perspectives or resources.  Over time this creates an increasingly narrow view of the world.

What’s more, Google’s shopping tools have begun using “paid inclusion,” a pay-for-play search feature it once condemned as “evil.” Its response is to say it prefers not to call this practice “paid inclusion,” even though its practices  appear to meet the Federal Trade Commission’s definition of the term.

As for Amazon, it has even manipulated its recommendation searches in order to retaliate against other businesses, as we’ll see in the next section.

The free market could become even less free.

Could Big Tech and its data be used to set user-specific pricing, based on what is known about an individual’s willingness to pay more for the same product? Benjamin Schiller of Brandeis University wrote a  working paper last year that showed how Netflix could do exactly that. Grocery stores and other retailers are already implementing technology that offers different pricing to different shoppers based on their data profile.

For its part, Amazon is introducing a phone that will also tag the items around you, as well as the music and programs you hear, for you to purchase – from Amazon, of course. Who will be purchasing the data those phones collect about  you?

The power and knowledge they have accumulated is frightening. But the Big Tech corporations are just getting started. Google has photographically mapped the entire world. It intends to put the world’s books into a privately owned online library. It’s launching balloons around the globe that will bring Internet access to remote areas – on its terms. It’s attempting to create artificial intelligence and extend the human lifespan.

Amazon hopes to deliver its products by drone within the next few years, an idea that would seem preposterous if not for its undeniable lobbying clout. Each of these Big Tech corporations has the ability to filter – and alter – our very perceptions of the world around us. And each of them has already shown a willingness to abuse it for their own ends.

These aren’t just the portraits of futuristic corporations that have become drunk on unchecked power. It’s a sign that things are likely to get worse – perhaps a lot worse – unless something is done. The solution may lie with an old concept. It may be time to declare Big Tech a public utility.

 

 

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