CAT | National Security
The Internet has been buzzing with reports of the recently leaked NSA exploits, backdoors, and hacking / surveillance tools. The linked article is good example.
None of this should be news to anyone paying attention. Many similar hacking tools are available from vendors at conferences like BlackHat and DefCon.
We all know that zero-day exploits exist, and things like Stuxnet clearly show that governments collect them.
Intentionally introducing compromised crypto into the commercial stream has a long history, perhaps best demonstrated by the continued sales of Enigma machines to national governments long after it had been cracked by the US and others.
This reminds me of a quote I posted back in March. Brian Snow, former NSA Information Assurance Director said “Your cyber systems continue to function and serve you not due to the expertise of your security staff but solely due to the sufferance of your opponents.”
One can focus on making this difficult, but none of us should be under the illusion that we can make it impossible. If you have something that absolutely must be protected, and upon which your life or liberty depends, then you need to be taking drastic steps, including total air gaps.
For the rest of your activities, you can use email encryption, disk encryption, VPNs, and other tools to make it as difficult as possible for any adversary to easily vacuum up your information.
If you are of special interest, you may be individually targeted, in which case you should expect your opponent to succeed. Otherwise, someone hacking your computer, or planting a radio enabled USB dongle on your computer is the least of your worries. Your cell phone and social media activities are already hemorrhaging information.
Bruce Schneier has a great post on issues with CALEA-II.
He talks about two main issues, with historical context.
First, about the vulnerabilities that automated eavesdropping backdoors always create in communications, and how that disadvantages US companies.
Second, about the fact that law enforcement claims of communications “Going Dark” are absurd given the treasure trove of new surveillance information available through social media, and cloud services (like gmail).
I know I have talked about this issue a lot over the years, but I am shocked that I can’t find any posts like it on this blog.
Bruce does it really well in any case.
The FBI in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Joint Regional Intelligence Center have produced a number of fliers to help the public identify possible terrorists. While some of the points have merit, it is very likely that this will generate an extremely high proportion of false alerts based on perfectly reasonable and legal behaviors.
A big red flag for me were the fliers for cyber cafes and electronics stores. These suggest that the use of privacy protecting services, like Anonymizer, should be deemed suspicious. They also call out Encryption, VoIP, and communicating through video games.
In almost all of the fliers they suggest that wanting to pay cash (legal tender for all debts public and private) is suspicious.
Thanks to Public Intelligence for pulling together PDFs of the documents.
Bruce Schneier on the real world effectiveness of a very simple domain name based man in the middle attack.
Here is a Wired article on the same issue showing how it was used to steal 20 GB of email from a Fortune 500 company.
Matt Blaze analyzes why the widespread use of cryptography has had almsost no impact on our practical ability to do wiretaps and gather information under legitimate court orders. Not too technical and absolutely worth a read.