Tag: NSA

WannaCry glossary in Plain English

Monday, 22 May, 2017 0 Comments

StrategyPage examines what it calls “An Endless Mystery Called WannaCry” and rounds off the piece with a useful glossary of basic hacker terms “in plain English” that begins with “Backdoor” and ends with “ZDE” (Zero Day Exploit). Three examples:

EternalBlue – A bit of malware developed by the NSA that exploits a ZDE in Microsoft local network software. EternalBlue was stolen and distributed by Wikileaks.

Spear fishing– a fishing operation where targets are carefully chosen and researched before putting together the attack. Despite having software and user rules in place to block spear fishing attacks there are so many email accounts to attack and you only have to get one victim to respond to a bogus email with a ‘vital attachment’ that must be ‘opened immediately’.

Social Engineering– Exploiting human nature to get malware onto a system. This is what fishing and spear fishing attacks depend on.

Update: Keith Collins has a superb article in Quartz titled Inside the digital heist that terrorized the world—and only made $100k. Bottom line:

“All told, the three bitcoin wallets used in the attack have received just under 300 payments totaling 48.86359565 bitcoins as of Saturday evening, the equivalent of about $101,000 USD. That’s a small take for an attack that infected nearly 300,000 systems, made medical care inaccessible, shut down factories, and ultimately may have created billions of dollars in losses.”

There’s something very fishy about the WannaCry fishing.


The Fable of Edward Snowden

Tuesday, 3 January, 2017 0 Comments

Book of the Year? It’s a bit premature at this point to be talking about annual awards but How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft by Edward Jay Epstein will be a contender for the title come the end of 2017.

How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft Epstein gave the world a preview in the Wall Street Journal on Friday and the subhead encapsulated the story: “As he seeks a pardon, the NSA thief has told multiple lies about what he stole and his dealings with Russian intelligence.” Snippet:

“The transfer of state secrets from Mr. Snowden to Russia did not occur in a vacuum. The intelligence war did not end with the termination of the Cold War; it shifted to cyberspace. Even if Russia could not match the NSA’s state-of-the-art sensors, computers and productive partnerships with the cipher services of Britain, Israel, Germany and other allies, it could nullify the U.S. agency’s edge by obtaining its sources and methods from even a single contractor with access to Level 3 documents.

Russian intelligence uses a single umbrella term to cover anyone who delivers it secret intelligence. Whether a person acted out of idealistic motives, sold information for money or remained clueless of the role he or she played in the transfer of secrets — the provider of secret data is considered an ‘espionage source.’ By any measure, it is a job description that fits Mr. Snowden.”

He’s a thief and a traitor, is Mr Snowden.


Qui pendra la sonnette au chat?

Wednesday, 24 June, 2015 0 Comments

The expression to bell the cat means to hang a bell around a cat’s neck to provide a warning. Figuratively, it refers to a difficult or impossible to achieve task. According to the fable, The Mice in Council, often attributed to Aesop, a group of mice are so terrified by the house cat that one of them suggests a bell be placed around the enemy’s neck to warn of his arrival. Volunteers for the job are requested but no mouse steps forward.

Eustache Deschamps (1340–1406) was a medieval French poet and among his ballades is Les souris et les rats. The poem was written as a response to an aborted invasion of England in 1386 and contrasts French wavering in the face of English firmness. The chorus Qui pendra la sonnette au chat (who will bell the cat) became proverbial in France and the moral is the same as that of the the Aesop fable: a plan must be achievable or it is useless.

Nothing much has changed down the centuries. New players arrive and old powers disappear. Today, the USA is the cat and France is still the mouse, spied upon and cruelly taken advantage of by those with the bigger budgets, better technologies and lesser standards when it comes protecting privacy. This is utter tosh, of course, as France is no position to throw stones.


Brazil is over

Tuesday, 7 January, 2014 0 Comments

For the Arsenal and England forward Theo Walcott, Brazil is very over. He’ll miss the rest of the season and the World Cup with a ruptured knee ligament. And it’s not looking so sunny, either, for the host country. “More than six years later, the outlook for Brazil’s oil industry, much like the Brazilian economy itself, is more sobering. Oil production is stagnant, the state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, is hobbled by debt, and foreign oil companies are wary of investing here.” So reports the Washington Post today in a piece titled “Brazil’s oil euphoria hits reality hard.”

And the Wall Street Journal piles it on: “Even Brazil, which has had far more responsible economic management than Venezuela or Argentina, is starting to struggle with rising prices and a boom in credit that is starting to turn. Last year, one Brazilian summed up the Atlantic bloc harshly: ‘Brazil is becoming Argentina, Argentina is becoming Venezuela, and Venezuela is becoming Zimbabwe.'”

Everything that seemed to be going so brilliantly for Brazil has started to go sour of late. The preparations for the World Cup have been marred by delays, deaths, and demonstrations against the diversion of resources from social spending to football stadiums and, in the bigger arena, Mexico’s economic revival has checked Brazil’s hopes of leading a renascent Latin America in the global power game. Last year was horrible for all the BRICs but the home of Pele was especially hard-hit. This year, US Fed tightening could spark a run on Brazilian assets. With the hosting of the World Cup and the Olympics, Brasilia dreamed of taking a leading place on the world stage. Now, the swagger is less assured and the talk is filled with the familiar complaints about a big country that never quite lives up to its promise and remains uncertain about its role.

Indicative of the doubt, is Brazil’s attitude to the American data thief, Edward Snowden. He wrote an open letter last month saying that he would assist the Brazilian government in its investigations into NSA spying in exchange for asylum. Publicly, the foreign ministry has hedged, saying it has not received a formal asylum request and therefore isn’t considering it, but it was the risk involved in angering Washington that prevented President Dilma Rousseff’s leftist government from easing Snowden’s passage from the grimness of Putin’s icy realm to the warmth of the Copacabana.

When it came to making the challenge, Brazil blinked. Not a good omen for the Seleção, that, this year.


Edward Snowden: “Ich bin ein Berliner”

Friday, 1 November, 2013 0 Comments

Stern Once upon a time… Well, July 2008, actually, and the Guardian titled it, “Obama wows Berlin crowd with historic speech.” Reading it today, one cannot help but smile. Jonathan Freedland described it as “a summer gathering of peace, love — and loathing of George Bush.” The madness of crowds, and all that. Freedland reminded readers that “the latest edition of Stern magazine features Obama on the cover, above the line ‘Saviour — or demagogue?'” Ah, fickle media. The current issue of Stern features Obama on the cover, too, but the title is “Der Spitzel“, a German term redolent of a Gestapo-Stasi horror that can only be approximated in English with informer, rate, fink, snitch or stoolie. But back to the Guardian and its treasure trove of mirth. Freedland noted an outbreak of “warmth” when Obama explained his belief in “allies who will listen to each other, who will learn from each other who will, above all, trust each other”. Yeah. Listen.

Were Obama to appear in Berlin now, “The young and the pierced, some with guitars slung over their shoulders” would, no doubt, pelt him with rotten eggs, or worse. The “Love Parade” affection that was paraded back then for the Democratic candidate would now be demonstrated for the data thief Edward Snowden. Today, Hans-Christian Ströbele, a German politician and lawyer, who once defended RAF terrorists, announced that he had met Snowden in Moscow and had invited him to Germany to testify about US intelligence gathering activities. Ströbele is noted for his hatred of America and it would be the ultimate irony of recent trans-Atlantic relations if Snowden, at the behest of Ströbele, and guaranteed exemption from extradition, were to appear at a mass rally in Berlin and declare “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Sounds daft, of course, but 200,000 crazy Germans turned out to hear another American promising “Hope and Change” in July 2008. The madness of crowds.


Time for a new Conversation

Monday, 28 October, 2013 0 Comments

The winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival was The Conversation, a cautionary technological tale written, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford. Since then, The Conversation has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

What made the film especially significant was that it employed the same surveillance equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used when spying on political opponents. Because the film was released just before Richard Nixon resigned as President, many interpreted it to be a commentary on the Watergate scandal and on the dangers of technology in the hands of those determined to use it for personal or political advantage.

So what are the chances of Hollywood producing a Conversation for our times? You know, one that would highlight any theoretical abuse of surveillance power by the Obama administration. Don’t hold your breath. “Obama fundraiser at George Clooney’s home nets $15 million” reported CNN in May last year. Attendees included, “DreamWorks studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; designer Diane Von Furstenberg; Barbra Streisand and her actor husband James Brolin. “Folks are still hurting out there and those frustrations with Washington and the nonsense they see on the news is making them more cynical than they were in 2008,” Obama said. How true. But Hollywood “folks” ain’t hurting too bad so it’s unlikely they’ll be making movies about “the nonsense they see on the news” anytime soon. Anyway, they’d prefer not to offend their candidate.

Note: A few short years ago in Germany, a rabid hatred of George W. Bush was regarded as a sign of sanity but the mania ended in 2008 and was followed by a wave of Obama idolatry, equally terrifying in its obsessiveness. This fever has cooled, too, and Germany’s yellow press is now comparing Obama to Nixon using words that evoke Watergate.

Bild and  Obama


Eurotrash talking

Friday, 25 October, 2013 0 Comments

Speaking recently on France Info radio, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, “The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us.” He added: “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else.” The difference, he noted, is that “we don’t have the same means as the United States — which makes us jealous.”

The faux outrage of the Europeans here is hilarious. And so is their notion of security. After all, if the NSA can listen in to Angela Merkel’s phone, others can as well. France is pretty good at this kind of thing and Russia and China are nifty, too. In “Why the NSA spies on France and Germany“, Marc Ambinder nails it:

“Of course, Brazil, France, Germany, and Mexico do exactly the same thing. They want their leaders to gain a decision advantage in the give and take between countries. They want to know what U.S. policymakers will do before the Americans do it. And in the case of Brazil and France, they aggressively spy on the United States, on U.S. citizens and politicians, in order to collect that information. The difference lies in the scale of intelligence collection: The U.S. has the most effective, most distributed, most sophisticated intelligence community in the West. It is Goliath. And other countries, rightly in their mind, are envious.”

Espionage has been part of diplomacy and statecraft since the days of Sun Tzu. “It is essential to seek out enemy agents who have come to conduct espionage against you and to bribe them to serve you,” he observed. “Give them instructions and care for them. Thus doubled agents are recruited and used.”

The former Chinese consul in Sydney, Chen Yonglin, who defected to Australia in 2005, said that China had 1,000 operatives spying in Australia at the time. Quoting the thinking of Sun Tzu, he told Australian officials that espionage is not an “add-on” to Chinese thinking. Rather, it is part of China’s strategic doctrine. Since the days of Sun Tzu, the aim of Chinese rulers has been to gain maximum advantage with minimum conflict. Winning by strategy is preferable to winning by war. Part of that strategy today is Big Data. Just ask the Canadians. They’re doing it, too.


An American Spy

Tuesday, 18 June, 2013 0 Comments

With all this talk of the NSA and its activities, espionage has stormed back onto the front pages. Perfect time to publish a spy novel set in China, the USA and Germany, one should think, and cometh the hour, cometh the man in the form of Olen Steinhauer. That surname suggests another Nordic star but Steinhauer was born in Baltimore and attended the University of Texas, Austin. He now lives in Budapest and he’s bidding to be the new John le Carré. Given the quality of An American Spy, he’s got a great hand of cards.

An American Spy And better again, Steinhauer has got a great sense of the Zeitgeist because he’s peopled An American Spy with characters such as Comrade Colonel Xin Zhu, the corpulent head of the Expedition Agency within Beijing’s Sixth Bureau of the Ministry of State Security. He’s had 33 CIA agents killed across the world in a breathtaking act of liquidation, but he’s got to watch his back because Wu Liang and his associate, Yang Qing-Nian, of the Supervision and Liaison Committee, a branch of the Central Committee’s Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, are not fans. Xin Zhu speaks:

“It wasn’t just revenge, you know. Everyone thinks that’s what it was — the committee, you, probably even the Americans. Revenge factored into it, but it was also a practical decision. That’s something I’ll have to explain on Monday morning. By eradicating one of their secret departments, we have sent a serious message to the Americans, the same message we want to send with the Olympic Games. That we are the primary force in the world. We are a nation that has suffered long enough — that’s the past. The present is this: We are a superpower of unfathomable riches, and we will not stand for interference, particularly from a country on the other side of the planet that still refers to itself as the world’s only superpower.”

Yes, it’s only fiction but le Carré’s fiction was infused with fact and there’s a lot in An American Spy to suggest that Steinhauer intimately understands the nexus of global strategy and dirty deeds, too. His portrayal of Zhu is measured and menacing and the useful idiots who marched in Hong Kong at the weekend in solidarity with Edward Snowden would do will to read An American Spy. There are no paradises upon this earth.


The Guardian and its “faux-scandal”

Friday, 14 June, 2013 1 Comment

It takes a brave person to defend the NSA and its surveillance remit, but David Simon, writer of “The Wire,” is not afraid to step up. In a blog post titled “We are shocked, shocked…,” he declares: “Having labored as a police reporter in the days before the Patriot Act, I can assure all there has always been a stage before the wiretap, a preliminary process involving the capture, retention and analysis of raw data. It has been so for decades now in this country. The only thing new here, from a legal standpoint, is the scale on which the FBI and NSA are apparently attempting to cull anti-terrorism leads from that data. But the legal and moral principles? Same old stuff.” And, he adds:

“But those planes really did hit those buildings. And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed and ideologically-motivated enemy. And for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, an American president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks. After all, we as a people, through our elected representatives, drafted and passed FISA and the Patriot Act and what has been done here, with Verizon and assuredly with other carriers, is possible under that legislation.”

The Guardian is home to some very nasty types still in pain following the defeat of the tyrants they so ardently supported, from Stalin to Chavez. Since the defeat of communism, this lot has flirted with everything from Islamism to feminism in the hope of gaining some relevance again, but each “ism” is worse than the other and all that’s left now is the “faux-scandal”. Same old stuff.


The debatable promise of The New Digital Age

Monday, 10 June, 2013 0 Comments

Spent part of the weekend reading part of The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. The book exudes positivity and Richard Waters noted in the Financial Times that “it lays out a mainly optimistic case for why the world’s tyrants should tremble in the face of universal internet access.”

The New Digital Age In their Introduction, the two authors sing the praises of “digital empowerment”, the result of which is that “authoritarian governments will find their newly connection populations more difficult to control, repress and influence, while democratic states will be forced to include many more voices (individuals, organizations and companies) in their affairs.” Then, comes this sentence: “To be sure, governments will always find ways to use new levels of connectivity to their advantage, but because of the way current network technology is structured, it truly favors the citizen, in ways we will explore later.”

Is “the citizen” here Jared Cohen or Edward Snowdon? The revelations about the PRISM project would appear to suggest the transition to a total surveillance society is underway and while Schmidt and Cohen don’t dismiss such dangers, they come across as somewhat naïve when they write: “In fact, technology will empower people to police the police in a plethora of creative ways never before possible, including through real-time monitoring systems allowing citizens to publicly rate every police officer in their home-town. Commerce, education, health care and the justice system will all become more efficient, transparent and inclusive as major institutions opt in to the digital age.”

More “efficient”, no doubt. But more “transparent”? One has doubts. That, by the way, is from the first chapter, “The Future of Identity, Citizenship and Reporting”, which asserts: “Governments, too, will find it more difficult to maneuver as their citizens become more connected.” Really? The NSA data-mining PRISM project is, in fact, a partnership with at least nine big US internet companies, among them Google, Skype, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple. Governments, it turns out, regardless of what Schmidt and Cohen say publicly, are very agile in The New Digital Age.

In a future where everyone is connected, Juvenal will be more relevant than ever: “Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (“But who will watch the watchers?”) he asked.