CAT | Surveillance
Another from the “if the data exists, it will get compromised” file.
This article from the Washington Post talks about an interesting case of counter surveillance hacking.
In 2010, Google disclosed that Chinese hackers breached Google’s servers. What only recently came to light was that one of the things compromised was a database containing information about government requests for email records.
Former government officials speculate that they may have been looking for indications of which of their agents had been discovered. If there were records of US government requests for information on any of their agents, it would be evidence that those agents had been exposed. This would allow the Chinese to shut down operations to prevent further exposure and to get those agents out of the country before they could be picked up.
I had not thought about subpoenas and national security letters being a counter intelligence treasure trove, but it makes perfect sense.
Because Google / Gmail are so widely used, they present a huge and valuable target for attackers. Good information on almost any target is likely to live within their databases.
Arstechnica reports on the discovery of signed malware designed for surveillance on the Mac laptop of an Angolan activist.
The malware was a trojan that the activist obtained through a spear phishing email attack. The news here is that the malware was signed with a valid Apple Developer ID.
The idea is that having all code signed should substantially reduce the amount of malware on the platform. This works because creating a valid Apple Developer ID requires significant effort, and may expose the identity of the hacker unless they take steps to hide their identity. This is not trivial as the Developer ID requires contact information and payment of fees.
The second advantage of signed code is that the Developer’s certificate can be quickly revoked, so the software will be detected as invalid and automatically blocked on every Mac world wide. This limits the amount of damage a given Malware can do, and forces the attacker to create a new Apple Developer ID every time they are detected.
This has been seen to work fairly well in practice, but it is not perfect. If a target is valuable enough, a Developer ID can be set up just to go after that one person or small group. The malware is targeted to just them, so the likelihood of detection is low. In this case, it would continue to be recognized as a legitimates signed valid application for a very long time.
In the case of the Angolan activist, it was discovered at a human rights conference where the attendees were learning how to secure their devices against government monitoring.
The ACLU just posted an article about a recent federal magistrate judge’s ruling. It is a somewhat bizarre case.
The DEA had an arrest warrant for a doctor suspected selling prescription pain killer drugs for cash. They then requested a court order to obtain his real time location information from his cell provider.
The judge went along, but then published a 30 page opinion stating that no order or warrant should have been required for the location information because the suspect had no expectation of location privacy. If he wanted privacy, all he had to have done is to turn off his phone (which would have prevented the collection of the information at all, not just established his expectation).
So, if this line of reasoning is picked up and becomes precedent, it is clear than anyone on the run needs to keep their phone off and / or use burner phones paid for with cash.
My concern is that, if there is no expectation of privacy, is there anything preventing government entities from requesting location information on whole populations without any probable cause or court order.
While I think that the use of location information in this case was completely appropriate, I would sleep better if there was the check and balance of the need for a court order before getting it.
This is another situation where technology has run ahead of the law. The Fourth Amendment was written in a time where information was in tangible form, and the only time it was generally in the hands of third parties, was when it was in the mail. Therefor search of mail in transit was specially protected.
Today, cloud and telecommunication providers serve much the same purpose as the US Postal Service, and are used in similar ways. It is high time that the same protection extended to snail mail be applied to the new high tech communications infrastructures we use today.
There is a lot of buzz right now about how Google Glass will lead to some kind of universal George Orwell type surveillance state.
I think this misses the point. We are going there without Google Glass. Private surveillance is becoming ubiquitous. Any place of business is almost certain to have cameras. After the Boston bombings, we are likely to see the same proliferation of street cameras that has already happened in London any many other places.
The meteor in russia earlier this year made me aware of just how common personal dash board cameras are in Russia. It seems likely that they will be common everywhere in no too many years.
Smart phone cameras are already doing an amazing job of capturing almost any event that takes place anywhere in the world.
So, you are probably being filmed by at least one camera at almost all times any time you are away from your house.
David Brin and others have been arguing for “sousveillance”. If surveillance is those with power looking down from above, sousveillance is those without power looking back. It tends to have a leveling effect. Law enforcement officers are less likely to abuse their power if they are being recorded by private cameras. Similarly and simultaneously they are protected against false claims of abuse from citizens.
I would rather see ubiquitous private cameras than ubiquitous government cameras. If there is a major incident, the public will send in requested footage, but it would make broad drift net fishing, and facial recognition based tracking more difficult.
An interesting counter trend may be in the creation of camera free private spaces. Private clubs, restaurants, gyms, etc. may all differentiate themselves in part based on their surveillance / sousveillance policies.
Welcome to episode 7 of The Privacy Blog Podcast.
In April’s episode, we’ll be looking at the blacklisting of SSL certificate authorities by Mozilla Firefox – Specifically, what this complex issue means and why Mozilla chose to start doing this.
In more breaking online privacy news, I will be discussing the security implications of relying on social media following the hacking of the Associated Press Twitter account earlier this week.
Next, I’ll chat about the “right to be forgotten” on the Internet, which hinges on the struggle between online privacy and free speech rights. In a closely related topic and following Google’s release of the new “Inactive Account Manager,” I will discuss what happens to our social media presence and cloud data when we die. It’s a topic none of us likes to dwell on, but it’s worth taking the time to think about our digital afterlife.