TAG | surveillance
Recently a colleague was reading a blog post by a Russian based VPN provider which talked about their privacy stance. He was incredulous. “Why would anyone trust a Russian VPN company?!?!”
It is a reasonable question about many locations. Russia, China, Iran, and many other companies are justifiably known for Internet monitoring and censorship. Of course, in the post Snowden era, a lot of attention has been focused on US surveillance as well.
I think that many people have the feeling that they should trust anyone but their own governments. After all, foreign intelligence services are unlikely to do anything about any intercepts unless they see some kind of global doomsday scenario. You might worry that your local intelligence agency could pass along information to local law enforcement, but that too seems generally unlikely. Exposing such intercepts would also expose sources and methods, which are some of the most highly protected secrets out there.
To me the question is what the VPN / Privacy provider is ALLOWED to keep private. It is clear that many governments put a huge amount of pressure, or actually pass laws, on companies to keep all kinds of user activity records. Interestingly that is not the case in the United States.
Anonymizer has no requirement to keep any records about what our users do through our service, or any way to identify associate any activity with a given user. Our systems are architected so that we don’t need to refuse to provide any of that information, we are simply incapable of doing so.
If this amendment passes, it will significantly reduce the perceived advantages of using servers outside the US. No only would the server still be subject to whatever legal process exists in the hosting country, but they would also be open to legal hacking by the USG.
When you think your phone is connected to your wireless provider, you might actually be connected to a rogue tower set up to capture your data.
Such devices have been demonstrated at the Black Hat security conference and a law enforcement fake tower called “Stingray” has been known for some time. Recently sophisticated secure phones have been able to detect these fake towers and people are starting to map them. Popular Science covered it here, and here.
There is very little transparency around law enforcement or US Intelligence use of such devices, so the could just as easily be operated by foreign intelligence services, criminals, or hackers. If we had strong end to end encryption there would be little to worry about, but many Internet connections and all phone calls are vulnerable to this attack.
Here is a new “as a service” offering I had never considered. Companies are supporting ISPs in responding to classified FISA court search warrants for the ISPs, including helping to capture the data and deciding if the request is proper.
Ars technica in conjunction with NPR conducted an excellent experiment showing how much and what kind of information can be obtained through capture off the wire. This is the type of information that a national intelligence service would see by tapping into ISPs.
They simulated this by using a penetration testing device installed at NPR reporter Steve Henn’s house (with his cooperation).
The amount of information is amazing. Even seemingly inactive devices are constantly making requests and connecting to services.
While many connections to key services like email and banking are encrypted, most others are not, revealing a great deal about Steve’s research activities.
It is absolutely worth a read.