Monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors — they’re the central part of the problem.

Tech Companies Are Peddling a Phony Version of Security, Using the Govt. as the Bogeyman

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This week the USA Freedom Act was blocked in the Senate as it failed to garner the 60 votes required to move forward. Presumably the bill would have imposed limits on NSA surveillance. Careful scrutiny of the bill’s text however reveals yet another mere gesture of reform, one that would codify and entrench existing surveillance capabilities rather than eliminate them.

Glenn Greenwald, commenting from his perch at the Intercept, opined:

“All of that illustrates what is, to me, the most important point from all of this: the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the U.S. government is . . . the U.S. government. Governments don’t walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power, and that’s particularly true of empires.”

Anyone who followed the sweeping deregulation of the financial industry during the Clinton era, the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act of 1999 which effectively repealed Glass-Steagall and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, immediately sees through Greenwald’s impromptu dogma. Let’s not forget the energy market deregulation in California and subsequent manipulation that resulted in blackouts throughout the state. Ditto that for the latest roll back of arms export controls that opened up markets for the defense industry. And never mind all those hi-tech companies that want to loosen H1-B restrictions.

The truth is that the government is more than happy to cede power and authority… just as long as doing so serves the corporate factions that have achieved state capture. The “empire” Greenwald speaks of is a corporate empire. In concrete analytic results that affirm Thomas Ferguson’s Investment Theory of Party Competition, researchers from Princeton and Northwestern University conclude that:

“Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Glenn’s stance reveals a broader libertarian theme. One that the Koch brothers would no doubt find amenable: the government is suspect and efforts to rein in mass interception must therefore arise from the corporate entities. Greenwald appears to believe that the market will solve everything. Specifically, he postulates that consumer demand for security will drive companies to offer products that protect user privacy, adopt “strong” encryption, etc.

The Primacy of Security Theater

Certainly large hi-tech companies care about quarterly earnings. That definitely explains all of the tax evasion, wage ceilings, and the slave labor. But these same companies would be hard pressed to actually protect user privacy because spying on users is a fundamental part of their business model. Like government spies, corporate spies collect and monetize oceans of data.

Furthermore hi-tech players don’t need to actually bullet-proof their products to win back customers. It’s far more cost effective to simply manufacture the perception of better security: slap on some crypto, flood the news with public relation pieces, and get some government officials (e.g. James ComeyRobert Hannigan, and Stewart Baker) to whine visibly about the purported enhancements in order to lend the marketing campaign credibility. The techno-libertarians of Silicon Valley are masters of Security Theater.

Witness, if you will, Microsoft’s litany of assurances about security over the years, followed predictably by an endless train of critical zero-day bugs. Faced with such dissonance it becomes clear that “security” in high-tech is viewed as a public relations issue, a branding mechanism to boost profits. Greenwald is underestimating the contempt that CEOs have for the credulity of their user base, much less their own workers.

Does allegedly “strong” cryptography offer salvation? Cryptome’s John Young thinks otherwise:

“Encryption is a citizen fraud, bastard progeny of national security, which offers malware insecurity requiring endless ‘improvements’ to correct the innately incorrigible. Its advocates presume it will empower users rather than subject them to ever more vulnerability to shady digital coders complicit with dark coders of law in exploiting fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

Business interests, having lured customers in droves with a myriad of false promises, will go back to secretly cooperating with government spies as they always have: introducing subtle weaknesses into cryptographic protocols, designing backdoors that double as accidental zero-day bugs, building rootkits which hide in plain sight, and handing over user data. In other words all of the behavior that was described by Edward Snowden’s documents. Like a jilted lover, consumers will be pacified with a clever sales pitch that conceals deeper corporate subterfuge.

Ultimately it’s a matter of shared class interest. The private sector almost always cooperates with the intelligence services because American spies pursue the long-term prerogatives of neoliberal capitalism; open markets and access to resources the world over. Or perhaps someone has forgotten the taped phone call of Victoria Nuland selecting the next prime minister of Ukraine as the IMF salivates over austerity measures? POTUS caters to his constituents, the corporate ruling class, which transitively convey their wishes to clandestine services like the CIA. Recall Ed Snowden’s open letter to Brazil:

“These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

To confront the Deep State Greenwald is essentially advocating that we elicit change by acting like consumers instead of constitutionally endowed citizens. This is a grave mistake because profits can be decoupled from genuine security in a society defined by secrecy, propaganda, and state capture. Large monolithic corporations aren’t our saviors. They’re the central part of the problem. We shouldn’t run to the corporate elite to protect us. We should engage politically to retake and remake our republic.

 

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis.

http://www.alternet.org/tech-companies-are-peddling-phony-version-security-using-govt-bogeyman?akid=12501.265072.yCLOb-&rd=1&src=newsletter1027620&t=29&paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Amnesty International Releases Tool To Combat Government Spyware

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Human rights charity Amnesty International has released Detekt, a tool that finds and removes known government spyware programs. Describing the free software as the first of its kind, Amnesty commissioned the tool from prominent German computer security researcher and open source advocate Claudio Guarnieri, aka ‘nex’. While acknowledging that the only sure way to prevent government surveillance of huge dragnets of individuals is legislation, Marek Marczynski of Amnesty nevertheless called the tool (downloadable here) a useful countermeasure versus spooks. According to the app’s instructions, it operates similarly to popular malware or virus removal suites, though systems must be disconnected from the Internet prior to it scanning.

Google’s secret NSA alliance: The terrifying deals between Silicon Valley and the security state

Inside the high-level, complicated deals — and the rise of a virtually unchecked surveillance power

Google's secret NSA alliance: The terrifying deals between Silicon Valley and the security state
Cover detail of “@War” by Shane Harris

In mid-December 2009, engineers at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California, began to suspect that hackers in China had obtained access to private Gmail accounts, including those used by Chinese human rights activists opposed to the government in Beijing.

 Like a lot of large, well-known Internet companies, Google and its users were frequently targeted by cyber spies and criminals. But when the engineers looked more closely, they discovered that this was no ordinary hacking campaign.

In what Google would later describe as “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China,” the thieves were able to get access to the password system that allowed Google’s users to sign in to many Google applications at once. This was some of the company’s most important intellectual property, considered among the “crown jewels” of its source code by its engineers. Google wanted concrete evidence of the break-in that it could share with U.S. law enforcement and intelligence authorities. So they traced the intrusion back to what they believed was its source — a server in Taiwan where data was sent after it was siphoned off Google’s systems, and that was presumably under the control of hackers in mainland China.

“Google broke in to the server,” says a former senior intelligence official who’s familiar with the company’s response. The decision wasn’t without legal risk, according to the official. Was this a case of hacking back? Just as there’s no law against a homeowner following a robber back to where he lives, Google didn’t violate any laws by tracing the source of the intrusion into its systems. It’s still unclear how the company’s investigators gained access to the server, but once inside, if they had removed or deleted data, that would cross a legal line. But Google didn’t destroy what it found. In fact, the company did something unexpected and unprecedented — it shared the information.

Google uncovered evidence of one of the most extensive and far-reaching campaigns of cyber espionage in U.S. history. Evidence suggested that Chinese hackers had penetrated the systems of nearly three dozen other companies, including technology mainstays such as Symantec, Yahoo, and Adobe, the defense contractor Northrop Grumman, and the equipment maker Juniper Networks. The breadth of the campaign made it hard to discern a single motive. Was this industrial espionage? Spying on human rights activists? Was China trying to gain espionage footholds in key sectors of the U.S. economy or, worse, implant malware in equipment used to regulate critical infrastructure?



The only things Google seemed certain of was that the campaign was massive and persistent, and that China was behind it. And not just individual hackers, but the Chinese government, which had the means and the motive to launch such a broad assault.

Google shared what it found with the other targeted companies, as well as U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. For the past four years, corporate executives had been quietly pressing government officials to go public with information about Chinese spying, to shame the country into stopping its campaign. But for President Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give a speech pointing the finger at China, they needed indisputable evidence that attributed the attacks to sources in China. And looking at what Google had provided it, government analysts were not sure they had it. American officials decided the relationship between the two economic superpowers was too fragile and the risk of conflict too high to go public with what Google knew.

Google disagreed.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg was at a cocktail party in Washington when an aide delivered an urgent message: Google was going to issue a public statement about the Chinese spying campaign. Steinberg, the second-highest-ranking official in U.S. foreign policy, immediately grasped the significance of the company’s decision. Up to that moment, American corporations had been unwilling to publicly accuse the Chinese of spying on their networks or stealing their intellectual property. The companies feared losing the confidence of investors and customers, inviting other hackers to target their obviously weak defenses, and igniting the fury of Chinese government officials, who could easily revoke access to one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets for U.S. goods and services. For any company to come out against China would be momentous. But for Google, the most influential company of the Internet age, it was historic.

The next day, January 12, 2010, Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, posted a lengthy statement to the company’s blog, accusing hackers in China of attacking Google’s infrastructure and criticizing the government for censoring Internet content and suppressing human rights activists. “We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech,” said Drummond.

Back at the State Department, officials saw a rare opportunity to put pressure on China for spying. That night Hillary Clinton issued her own statement. “We have been briefed by Google on these allegations, which raise very serious concerns and questions. We look to the Chinese government for an explanation,” she said. “The ability to operate with confidence in cyberspace is critical in a modern society and economy.”

As diplomatic maneuvers go, this was pivotal. Google had just given the Obama administration an opening to accuse China of espionage without having to make the case itself. Officials could simply point to what Google had discovered as a result of its own investigation.

“It gave us an opportunity to discuss the issues without having to rely on classified sources or sensitive methods” of intelligence gathering, Steinberg says. The administration had had little warning about Google’s decision, and it was at odds with some officials’ reluctance to take the espionage debate public. But now that it was, no one complained.

“It was their decision. I certainly had no objection,” Steinberg says.

The Obama administration began to take a harsher tone with China, starting with a major address Clinton gave about her Internet Freedom initiative nine days later. She called on China to stop censoring Internet searches and blocking access to websites that printed criticism about the country’s leaders. Clinton likened such virtual barriers to the Berlin Wall.

For its part, Google said it would stop filtering search results for words and subjects banned by government censors. And if Beijing objected, Google was prepared to pull up stakes and leave the Chinese market entirely, losing out on billions of dollars in potential revenues. That put other U.S. technology companies in the hot seat. Were they willing to put up with government interference and suppression of free speech in order to keep doing business in China?

After Google’s declaration, it was easier for other companies to admit they’d been infiltrated by hackers. After all, if it happened to Google, it could happen to anyone. Being spied on by the Chinese might even be a mark of distinction, insofar as it showed that a company was important enough to merit the close attention of a superpower. With one blog post, Google had changed the global conversation about cyber defense.

The company had also shown that it knew a lot about Chinese spies. The NSA wanted to know how much.

Google had also alerted the NSA and the FBI that its networks were breached by hackers in China. As a law enforcement agency, the FBI could investigate the intrusion as a criminal matter. But the NSA needed Google’s permission to come in and help assess the breach.

On the day that Google’s lawyer wrote the blog post, the NSA’s general counsel began drafting a “cooperative research and development agreement,” a legal pact that was originally devised under a 1980 law to speed up the commercial development of new technologies that are of mutual interest to companies and the government. The agreement’s purpose is to build something — a device or a technique, for instance. The participating company isn’t paid, but it can rely on the government to front the research and development costs, and it can use government personnel and facilities for the research. Each side gets to keep the products of the collaboration private until they choose to disclose them. In the end, the company has the exclusive patent rights to build whatever was designed, and the government can use any information that was generated during the collaboration.

It’s not clear what the NSA and Google built after the China hack. But a spokeswoman at the agency gave hints at the time the agreement was written. “As a general matter, as part of its information-assurance mission, NSA works with a broad range of commercial partners and research associates to ensure the availability of secure tailored solutions for Department of Defense and national security systems customers,” she said. It was the phrase “tailored solutions” that was so intriguing. That implied something custom built for the agency, so that it could perform its intelligence-gathering mission. According to officials who were privy to the details of Google’s arrangements with the NSA, the company agreed to provide information about traffic on its networks in exchange for intelligence from the NSA about what it knew of foreign hackers. It was a quid pro quo, information for information.

And from the NSA’s perspective, information in exchange for protection.

The cooperative agreement and reference to a “tailored solution” strongly suggest that Google and the NSA built a device or a technique for monitoring intrusions into the company’s networks. That would give the NSA valuable information for its so-called active defense system, which uses a combination of automated sensors and algorithms to detect malware or signs of an imminent attack and take action against them. One system, called Turmoil, detects traffic that might pose a threat. Then, another automated system called Turbine decides whether to allow the traffic to pass or to block it. Turbine can also select from a number of offensive software programs and hacking techniques that a human operator can use to disable the source of the malicious traffic. He might reset the source’s Internet connection or redirect the traffic to a server under the NSA’s control. There the source can be injected with a virus or spyware, so the NSA can continue to monitor it.

For Turbine and Turmoil to work, the NSA needs information, particularly about the data flowing over a network. With its millions of customers around the world, Google is effectively a directory of people using the Internet. It has their e-mail addresses. It knows where they’re physically located when they log in. It knows what they search for on the web. The government could command the company to turn over that information, and it does as part of the NSA’s Prism program, which Google had been participating in for a year by the time it signed the cooperative agreement with the NSA. But that tool is used for investigating people whom the government suspects of terrorism or espionage.

The NSA’s cyber defense mission takes a broader view across networks for potential threats, sometimes before it knows who those threats are. Under Google’s terms of service, the company advises its users that it may share their “personal information” with outside organizations, including government agencies, in order to “detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues” and to “protect against harm to the rights, property or safety of Google.” According to people familiar with the NSA and Google’s arrangement, it does not give the government permission to read Google users’ e-mails.

They can do that under Prism. Rather, it lets the NSA evaluate Google hardware and software for vulnerabilities that hackers might exploit. Considering that the NSA is the single biggest collector of zero day vulnerabilities, that information would help make Google more secure than others that don’t get access to such prized secrets. The agreement also lets the agency analyze intrusions that have already occurred, so it can help trace them back to their source.

Google took a risk forming an alliance with the NSA. The company’s corporate motto, “Don’t be evil,” would seem at odds with the work of a covert surveillance and cyber warfare agency. But Google got useful information in return for its cooperation. Shortly after the China revelation, the government gave Sergey Brin, Google’s cofounder, a temporary security clearance that allowed him to attend a classified briefing about the campaign against his company. Government analysts had concluded that the intrusion was directed by a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. This was the most specific information Google could obtain about the source of the intrusion. It could help Google fortify its systems, block traffic from certain Internet addresses, and make a more informed decision about whether it wanted to do business in China at all. Google’s executives might pooh-pooh the NSA’s “secret sauce.” But when the company found itself under attack, it turned to Fort Meade for help.

In its blog post, Google said that more than twenty companies had been hit by the China hackers, in a campaign that was later dubbed Aurora after a file name on the attackers’ computer. A security research firm soon put the number of targets at around three dozen. Actually, the scope of Chinese spying was, and is, much larger.

Security experts in and outside of government have a name for the hackers behind campaigns such as Aurora and others targeting thousands of other companies in practically every sector of the U.S. economy: the advanced persistent threat. It’s an ominous-sounding title, and a euphemistic one. When government officials mention “APT” today, what they often mean is China, and more specifically, hackers working at the direction of Chinese military and intelligence officials or on their behalf.

The “advanced” part of the description refers in part to the hackers’ techniques, which are as effective as any the NSA employs. The Chinese cyber spies can use an infected computer’s own chat and instant-messenger applications to communicate with a command-and-control server. They can implant a piece of malware and then remotely customize it, adding new information-harvesting features. The government apparatus supporting all this espionage is also advanced, more so than the loose-knit groups of cyber vandals or activists such as Anonymous that spy on companies for political purposes, or even the sophisticated Russian criminal groups, who are more interested in stealing bank account and credit card data. China plays a longer game. Its leaders want the country to become a first-tier economic and industrial power in a single generation, and they are prepared to steal the knowledge they need to do it, U.S. officials say.

That’s where the “persistent” part comes into play. Gathering that much information, from so many sources, requires a relentless effort, and the will and financial resources to try many different kinds of intrusion techniques, including expensive zero day exploits. Once the spies find a foothold inside an organization’s networks, they don’t let go unless they’re forced out. And even then they quickly return. The “threat” such spying poses to the U.S. economy takes the form of lost revenue and strategic position. But also the risk that the Chinese military will gain hidden entry points into critical-infrastructure control systems in the United States. U.S. intelligence officials believe that the Chinese military has mapped out infrastructure control networks so that if the two nations ever went to war, the Chinese could hit American targets such as electrical grids or gas pipelines without having to launch a missile or send a fleet of bombers.

Operation Aurora was the first glimpse into the breadth of the ATP’s exploits. It was the first time that names of companies had been attached to Chinese espionage. “The scope of this is much larger than anybody has ever conveyed,” Kevin Mandia, CEO and president of Mandiant, a computer security and forensics company located outside Washington, said at the time of Operation Aurora. The APT represented hacking on a national, strategic level. “There [are] not 50 companies compromised. There are thousands of companies compromised. Actively, right now,” said Mandia, a veteran cyber investigator who began his career as a computer security officer in the air force and worked there on cybercrime cases. Mandiant was becoming a goto outfit that companies called whenever they discovered spies had penetrated their networks. Shortly after the Google breach, Mandiant disclosed the details of its investigations in a private meeting with Defense Department officials a few days before speaking publicly about it.

The APT is not one body but a collection of hacker groups that include teams working for the People’s Liberation Army, as well as so-called patriotic hackers, young, enterprising geeks who are willing to ply their trade in service of their country. Chinese universities are also stocked with computer science students who work for the military after graduation. The APT hackers put a premium on stealth and patience. They use zero days and install backdoors. They take time to identify employees in a targeted organization, and send them carefully crafted spear-phishing e-mails laden with spyware. They burrow into an organization, and they often stay there for months or years before anyone finds them, all the while siphoning off plans and designs, reading e-mails and their attachments, and keeping tabs on the comings and goings of employees — the hackers’ future targets. The Chinese spies behave, in other words, like their American counterparts.

No intelligence organization can survive if it doesn’t know its enemy. As expansive as the NSA’s network of sensors is, it’s sometimes easier to get precise intelligence about hacking campaigns from the targets themselves. That’s why the NSA partnered with Google. It’s why when Mandiant came calling with intelligence on the APT, officials listened to what the private sleuths had to say. Defending cyberspace is too big a job even for the world’s elite spy agency. Whether they like it or not, the NSA and corporations must fight this foe together.

Google’s Sergey Brin is just one of hundreds of CEOs who have been brought into the NSA’s circle of secrecy. Starting in 2008, the agency began offering executives temporary security clearances, some good for only one day, so they could sit in on classified threat briefings.

“They indoctrinate someone for a day, and show them lots of juicy intelligence about threats facing businesses in the United States,” says a telecommunications company executive who has attended several of the briefings, which are held about three times a year. The CEOs are required to sign an agreement pledging not to disclose anything they learn in the briefings. “They tell them, in so many words, if you violate this agreement, you will be tried, convicted, and spend the rest of your life in prison,” says the executive.

Why would anyone agree to such severe terms? “For one day, they get to be special and see things few others do,” says the telecom executive, who, thanks to having worked regularly on classified projects, holds high-level clearances and has been given access to some of the NSA’s most sensitive operations, including the warrantless surveillance program that began after the 9/11 attacks. “Alexander became personal friends with many CEOs” through these closed-door sessions, the executive adds. “I’ve sat through some of these and said, ‘General, you tell these guys things that could put our country in danger if they leak out.’ And he said, ‘I know. But that’s the risk we take. And if it does leak out, they know what the consequences will be.’ ”

But the NSA doesn’t have to threaten the executives to get their attention. The agency’s revelations about stolen data and hostile intrusions are frightening in their own right, and deliberately so. “We scare the bejeezus out of them,” a government official told National Public Radio in 2012. Some of those executives have stepped out of their threat briefings meeting feeling like the defense contractor CEOs who, back in the summer of 2007, left the Pentagon with “white hair.”

Unsure how to protect themselves, some CEOs will call private security companies such as Mandiant. “I personally know of one CEO for whom [a private NSA threat briefing] was a life-changing experience,” Richard Bejtlich, Mandiant’s chief security officer, told NPR. “General Alexander sat him down and told him what was going on. This particular CEO, in my opinion, should have known about [threats to his company] but did not, and now it has colored everything about the way he thinks about this problem.”

The NSA and private security companies have a symbiotic relationship. The government scares the CEOs and they run for help to experts such as Mandiant. Those companies, in turn, share what they learn during their investigations with the government, as Mandiant did after the Google breach in 2010. The NSA has also used the classified threat briefings to spur companies to strengthen their defenses.

In one 2010 session, agency officials said they’d discovered a flaw in personal computer firmware — the onboard memory and codes that tell the machine how to work — that could allow a hacker to turn the computer “into a brick,” rendering it useless. The CEOs of computer manufacturers who attended the meeting, and who were previously aware of the design flaw, ordered it fixed.

Private high-level meetings are just one way the NSA has forged alliances with corporations. Several classified programs allow companies to share the designs of their products with the agency so it can inspect them for flaws and, in some instances, install backdoors or other forms of privileged access. The types of companies that have shown the NSA their products include computer, server, and router manufacturers; makers of popular software products, including Microsoft; Internet and e-mail service providers; telecommunications companies; satellite manufacturers; antivirus and Internet security companies; and makers of encryption algorithms.

The NSA helps the companies find weaknesses in their products. But it also pays the companies not to fix some of them. Those weak spots give the agency an entry point for spying or attacking foreign governments that install the products in their intelligence agencies, their militaries, and their critical infrastructure. Microsoft, for instance, shares zero day vulnerabilities in its products with the NSA before releasing a public alert or a software patch, according to the company and U.S. officials. Cisco, one of the world’s top network equipment makers, leaves backdoors in its routers so they can be monitored by U.S. agencies, according to a cyber security professional who trains NSA employees in defensive techniques. And McAfee, the Internet security company, provides the NSA, the CIA, and the FBI with network traffic flows, analysis of malware, and information about hacking trends.

Companies that promise to disclose holes in their products only to the spy agencies are paid for their silence, say experts and officials who are familiar with the arrangements. To an extent, these openings for government surveillance are required by law. Telecommunications companies in particular must build their equipment in such a way that it can be tapped by a law enforcement agency presenting a court order, like for a wiretap. But when the NSA is gathering intelligence abroad, it is not bound by the same laws. Indeed, the surveillance it conducts via backdoors and secret flaws in hardware and software would be illegal in most of the countries where it occurs.

Of course, backdoors and unpatched flaws could also be used by hackers. In 2010 a researcher at IBM publicly revealed a flaw in a Cisco operating system that allows a hacker to use a backdoor that was supposed to be available only to law enforcement agencies. The intruder could hijack the Cisco device and use it to spy on all communications passing through it, including the content of e-mails. Leaving products vulnerable to attack, particularly ubiquitous software programs like those produced by Microsoft, puts millions of customers and their private information at risk and jeopardizes the security of electrical power facilities, public utilities, and transportation systems.

Under U.S. law, a company’s CEO is required to be notified whenever the government uses its products, services, or facilities for intelligence-gathering purposes. Some of these information-sharing arrangements are brokered by the CEOs themselves and may be reviewed only by a few lawyers. The benefits of such cooperation can be profound. John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, became friends with George W. Bush when he was in office. In April 2006, Chambers and the president ate lunch together at the White House with Chinese president Hu Jintao, and the next day Bush gave Chambers a lift on Air Force One to San Jose, where the president joined the CEO at Cisco headquarters for a panel discussion on American business competitiveness. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also joined the conversation. Proximity to political power is its own reward. But preferred companies also sometimes receive early warnings from the government about threats against them.

The Homeland Security Department also conducts meetings with companies through its “cross sector working groups” initiative. These sessions are a chance for representatives from the universe of companies with which the government shares intelligence to meet with one another and hear from U.S. officials. The attendees at these meetings often have security clearances and have undergone background checks and interviews. The department has made the schedule and agendas of some of these meetings public, but it doesn’t disclose the names of companies that participated or many details about what they discussed.

Between January 2010 and October 2013, the period for which public records are available, the government held at least 168 meetings with companies just in the cross sector working group. There have been hundreds more meetings broken out by specific industry categories, such as energy, telecommunications, and transportation.

A typical meeting may include a “threat briefing” by a U.S. government official, usually from the NSA, the FBI, or the Homeland Security Department; updates on specific initiatives, such as enhancing bank website security, improving information sharing among utility companies, or countering malware; and discussion of security “tools” that have been developed by the government and industry, such as those used to detect intruders on a network. One meeting in April 2012 addressed “use cases for enabling information sharing for active cyber defense,” the NSA-pioneered process of disabling cyber threats before they can do damage. The information sharing in this case was not among government agencies but among corporations.

Most meetings have dealt with protecting industrial control systems, the Internet-connected devices that regulate electrical power equipment, nuclear reactors, banks, and other vital facilities. That’s the weakness in U.S. cyberspace that most worries intelligence officials. It was the subject that so animated George W. Bush in 2007 and that Barack Obama addressed publicly two years later. The declassified agendas for these meetings offer a glimpse at what companies and the government are building for domestic cyber defense.

On September 23, 2013, the Cross Sector Enduring Security Framework Operations Working Group discussed an update to an initiative described as “Connect Tier 1 and USG Operations Center.” “Tier 1” usually refers to a major Internet service provider or network operator. Some of the best-known Tier 1 companies in the United States are AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink. “USG” refers to the U.S. government. The initiative likely refers to a physical connection running from an NSA facility to those companies, as part of an expansion of the DIB pilot program. The expansion was authorized by a presidential executive order in February 2013 aimed at increasing security of critical-infrastructure sites around the country. The government, mainly through the NSA, gives threat intelligence to two Internet service providers, AT&T and CenturyLink. They, in turn, can sell “enhanced cybersecurity services,” as the program is known, to companies that the government deems vital to national and economic security. The program is nominally run by the Homeland Security Department, but the NSA provides the intelligence and the technical expertise.

Through this exchange of intelligence, the government has created a cyber security business. AT&T and CenturyLink are in effect its private sentries, selling protection to select corporations and industries. AT&T has one of the longest histories of any company participating in government surveillance. It was among the first firms that voluntarily handed over call records of its customers to the NSA following the 9/11 attacks, so the agency could mine them for potential connections to terrorists — a program that continues to this day. Most phone calls in the United States pass through AT&T equipment at some point, regardless of which carrier initiates them. The company’s infrastructure is one of the most important and frequently tapped repositories of electronic intelligence for the NSA and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

CenturyLink, which has its headquarters in Monroe, Louisiana, has been a less familiar name in intelligence circles over the years. But in 2011 the company acquired Qwest Communications, a telecommunications firm that is well known to the NSA. Before the 9/11 attacks, NSA officials approached Qwest executives and asked for access to its high-speed fiber-optic networks, in order to monitor them for potential cyber attacks. The company rebuffed the agency’s requests because officials hadn’t obtained a court order to get access to the company’s equipment. After the terrorist attacks, NSA officials again came calling, asking Qwest to hand over its customers’ phone records without a court-approved warrant, as AT&T had done. Again, the company refused. It took another ten years and the sale of the company, but Qwest’s networks are now a part of the NSA’s extended security apparatus.

The potential customer base for government-supplied cyber intelligence, sold through corporations, is as diverse as the U.S. economy itself. To obtain the information, a company must meet the government’s definition of a critical infrastructure: “assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.” That may seem like a narrow definition, but the categories of critical infrastructure are numerous and vast, encompassing thousands of businesses. Officially, there are sixteen sectors: chemical; commercial facilities, to include shopping centers, sports venues, casinos, and theme parks; communications; critical manufacturing; dams; the defense industrial base; emergency services, such as first responders and search and rescue; energy; financial services; food and agriculture; government facilities; health care and public health; information technology; nuclear reactors, materials, and waste; transportation systems; and water and wastewater systems.

It’s inconceivable that every company on such a list could be considered “so vital to the United States” that its damage or loss would harm national security and public safety. And yet, in the years since the 9/11 attacks, the government has cast such a wide protective net that practically any company could claim to be a critical infrastructure. The government doesn’t disclose which companies are receiving cyber threat intelligence. And as of now the program is voluntary. But lawmakers and some intelligence officials, including Keith Alexander and others at the NSA, have pressed Congress to regulate the cyber security standards of critical-infrastructure owners and operators. If that were to happen, then the government could require that any company, from Pacific Gas and Electric to Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos, take the government’s assistance, share information about its customers with the intelligence agencies, and build its cyber defenses according to government specifications.

In a speech in 2013 the Pentagon’s chief cyber security adviser, Major General John Davis, announced that Homeland Security and the Defense Department were working together on a plan to expand the original DIB program to more sectors. They would start with energy, transportation, and oil and natural gas, “things that are critical to DOD’s mission and the nation’s economic and national security that we do not directly control,” Davis said. The general called foreign hackers’ mapping of these systems and potential attacks “an imminent threat.” The government will never be able to manage such an extensive security regime on its own. It can’t now, which is why it relies on AT&T and CenturyLink. More companies will flock to this new mission as the government expands the cyber perimeter. The potential market for cyber security services is practically limitless.

Excerpted from “@WAR: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex” by Shane Harris. Copyright © 2014 by Shane Harris. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Shane Harris is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State, which won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism and was named one of the best books of 2010 by the Economist. Harris won the 2010 Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He is currently senior writer at Foreign Policy magazine and an ASU fellow at the New America Foundation, where he researches the future of war.

http://www.salon.com/2014/11/16/googles_secret_nsa_alliance_the_terrifying_deals_between_silicon_valley_and_the_security_state/?source=newsletter

“There is but one way out for you”: Read the uncensored letter J. Edgar Hoover wrote to MLK

Historian discovers unredacted copy of longtime FBI chief’s chilling letter

"There is but one way out for you": Read the uncensored letter J. Edgar Hoover wrote to MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr., J. Edgar G. Hoover (Credit: AP)

The mutual contempt between civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and longtime Federal Bureau of Investigation chief J. Edgar Hoover was hardly a well-kept secret. It was 50 years ago this month that Hoover denounced King as “the most notorious liar in the country” after King publicly took the bureau to task for its woefully inadequate enforcement of civil rights protections. In the years since, historians have documented the FBI’s smear campaign against King, which primarily consisted of wiretapping the activist and digging up dirt on his sexual rendezvous. Perhaps the most chilling piece of evidence uncovered in investigating the FBI’s crusade against King was a threatening 1964 letter — confirmed by U.S. Senator Frank Church’s investigative committee as Hoover’s handiwork — in which Hoover, posing as a disillusioned black supporter, warned that King’s “countless acts of adultery and immoral conduct” would be exposed. For the first time, that letter is available in uncensored form.

 Previous versions of the letter redacted details about King’s sexual liaisons, but while conducting research for a biography of Hoover this summer, Yale University historian Beverly Gage happened upon an uncensored version “tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives,” she writes in the forthcoming New York Times Magazine.

Containing no fewer than six uses of the word “evil,” the letter assails King as a fraud and appears to have been sent along with a wiretapped recording of the civil rights activist engaged in an extramarital encounter.

“Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” Hoover writes in one passage.

“You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes,” the letter reads. “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that,” Hoover later adds.

Hoover vows that King will soon be “exposed on the record for all time.”

“Yes, from your various evil playmates on the east coast to [here an individual’s name is redacted because Hoover’s allegations about her have not been confirmed or debunked] and others on the west coast and outside the country you are on the record. King you are done,” Hoover declares.



The letter concludes with a menacing declaration that “there is only one thing left for you to do,” giving King a deadline of 34 days before he would be exposed.

“You are done,” Hoover writes. “There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

As Gage notes, King told associates that he was convinced that someone — likely Hoover — was trying to provoke him to commit suicide.

“One oddity of Hoover’s campaign against King is that it mostly flopped, and the F.B.I. never succeeded in seriously damaging King’s public image,” Gage writes. “Half a century later, we look upon King as a model of moral courage and human dignity. Hoover, by contrast, has become almost universally reviled. In this context, perhaps the most surprising aspect of their story is not what the F.B.I. attempted, but what it failed to do.”

Read the letter below, via Gawker:

Luke Brinker is Salon’s deputy politics editor. Follow him on Twitter at @LukeBrinker.

Controlling the Surveillance State

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A new report from the ACLU shows that local law enforcement agencies have been spending big bucks on surveillance technology — and offers recommendations on how to rein in the spending.

California cities and counties have spent more than $65 million on surveillance technologies in the past decade while conducting little public debate about the expenditures, according to a new report published this week by three American Civil Liberties Union chapters in the state. Public records reviewed by the ACLU also indicate that though cities and counties in California bought surveillance technologies 180 instances, they only held public discussions about the proposals just 26 times.

The technologies examined in the report included automated license plate readers, closed-circuit video cameras, facial recognition software, drones, data mining tools, and cellphone interception devices known as ISMI catchers or stingrays. The report analyzed purchases by 59 cities and by 58 county governments in California. In many instances, city and county officials used federal grant money to make the purchases, and then asked local legislative bodies to rubber-stamp their decisions. “We long suspected California law enforcement was taking advantage of federal grant money to skirt official oversight and keep communities in the dark about surveillance systems,” said Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties director for the ACLU of California.

The report also found that only one-third of the cities and counties surveyed had privacy policies to prevent law enforcement abuse.

The ACLU report also includes a model ordinance that would require a public process and official legislative approval by local governments before law enforcement could purchase or use surveillance technologies that could impact the privacy of community members. Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos planned to announce on Wednesday their intention to introduce versions of the ACLU’s ordinance to their respective legislative bodies. In an interview, Avalos said he believes the proposed ordinance is a long overdue response to an alarming trend. “The level of surveillance in our society has increased dramatically over the past fifteen years and has gotten notably worse under the Obama administration,” Avalos said. “There’s technology out there that is available for cops to pick up … and it’s not clear to me how the technology will be used or useful.”

Avalos also stated that the purchase and use of such equipment is an alarming example of mission creep. “SFPD [San Francisco Police Department] and other police departments are developing an intelligence-gathering capacity beyond what their mission should be,” he said, adding that he is concerned that city policing policy is being driven by technology and equipment purchases that are not currently under the control or oversight of elected officials.

This is not the first effort to regulate the use of surveillance technology by Northern California law enforcement. An ad-hoc advisory committee formed in Oakland to oversee the drafting of the city’s privacy policy for the Domain Awareness Center has recommended similar legislation to city councilmembers (see “Oakland’s Surveillance Fight Continues,” 7/22/14). Oakland’s proposed ordinance would carry a $5,000 penalty or result in a misdemeanor for anyone found to have violated the city’s guidelines. In October, the City of San Carlos rejected a proposal to buy license plate readers on the grounds that the threat to civil liberties and privacy posed by the tracking technology outweighed any potential public safety benefits.

The ACLU’s model ordinance would establish a process for public debate and a consideration of the types of technologies being considered for purchase. The ordinance also would cover the use of surveillance technologies shared between law enforcement agencies, including those employed by fusion centers, such as the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, which coordinates the sharing of Stingrays owned by police in Oakland and San Francisco and maintains a centralized database of license-plate-reader data from dozens of Northern California agencies. Equipment obtained through private charities such as police foundations would also be covered under the model ordinance. Last month, ProPublica revealed the role of police foundations in New York City and Los Angeles in purchasing surveillance technology that was outside the oversight of local elected officials.

The ACLU report noted that many surveillance tools are being purchased and deployed without consideration of long-term costs associated with maintaining and using such equipment. “The fiscal impact of surveillance can far exceed initial purchase prices for equipment,” the report stated. “Modifying current infrastructure, operating and maintaining systems, and training staff can consume limited time and money even if federal or state grants fund initial costs. Surveillance technologies may also fail or be misused, resulting in costly lawsuits. Looking beyond the sticker price is essential.”

Many communities have purchased costly systems that are intrusive and don’t address the issues that residents believe are important. “The federal funding streaming down from Washington has sidestepped thoughtful considerations of what makes sense for communities,” Ozer said, noting that Oakland received millions of dollars for its Domain Awareness Center, yet received much smaller grants for its successful Operation Ceasefire program.

Avalos said he is in discussions with SFPD Chief Greg Suhr over the proposed ordinance, and is looking forward to hearing the input of his colleagues. “We want a public process around this issue before we enter into the legislative work,” Avalos said.

He is particularly disturbed by the SFPD’s use of devices that capture information from cellphones, like stingrays, and is looking forward to a full accounting of the police department’s technology and policies. Surveillance, Avalos said, “is a broad way of controlling behavior, [and] that is not an American or San Francisco value.”

AT&T and Verizon use “supercookies” to track users’ online activities

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By Thomas Gaist
7 November 2014

Telecommunications corporations Verizon and AT&T automatically monitor and record all Internet activity by users accessing their cellular data networks, according to reports published this week by the Washington Post and privacy groups. The tracking system has been referred to as a “supercookie” because it is nearly impossible for users to disable it.

AT&T and Verizon secretly tracked internet activity by more than 100 million customers using the “supercookie” system, according to figures cited by the Washington Post. All users accessing AT&T and Verizon networks are subject to tracking and logging of their Internet browsing, regardless of whether they are customers with AT&T or Verizon, the Post reported.

Corporate and government clients are not subject to tracking with the “supercookie,” according to assurances given by Verizon.

The X-UID supercookie, which Verizon says was first activated in November 2012, allows Verizon and AT&T to keep a record of every single website a user visits, even when the user has enabled common security features such as “Private Browsing” mode or is using encryption technology.

Privacy groups note that data collected by the companies can easily be transferred to the NSA and other state surveillance agencies, and that even more advanced data tracking software is currently in development.

In 2012, Verizon launched Precision Market Insights (PMI), a subsidiary firm that sells information to marketing companies to tailor their advertising strategies based on Verizon customers’ Internet use patterns. PMI’s official literature touts the “PrecisionID” system, described as “an anonymous unique device identifier, which can be used to reach the right audiences on mobile through demographic, interest and geographic targeting.”

While the company maintains secrecy about its PMI operations, previous comments from top executives make clear the eagerness of Verizon’s corporate leadership to profit by spying on its customers.

“We realized we had a latent asset. We have information about how customers are using their mobile phones,” PMI vice president Colson Hillier told FierceMobileIT in October 2012.

Changes to Verizon’s privacy policy in 2011-12, enabled PMI to “take insights from the network … and create a series of tools that companies can use to better understand their consumers,” Hillier said.

“There’s a stampede by the cable companies and wireless carriers to expand data collection,” Jeffry Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy told the Washington Post.

“They all want to outdo Google,” Chester said.

PMI executive Bill Diggins bragged, “We are able to view just everything that they [cell phone users] do,” while speaking to the Paley Center’s “Data to Dollars” media symposium in 2012.

Verizon executive Thomas J. Tauke told a 2008 congressional hearing that Verizon would seek “meaningful, affirmative consent from consumers” before tracking their Internet usage with cookies.

Instead of positive consent, however, all users are subject to tracking by default, according to company sources cited by the Post, and Verizon continues to track and record all web activity even by customers who have “opted out” of the data tracking.

Once the data is collected, advertising companies can still use “de-anonymizing” technologies to identify and use data from customers who opted out, the Post reported.

Taken together with the growing mountain of evidence that the US government surveillance operations benefit from active collaboration with the major technology and communications companies, the latest revelations further show that the US corporate establishment views the privacy and democratic rights of the population with contempt.

Despite the public relations efforts of the companies to distance themselves from the mass surveillance programs run by the US and other governments, the “supercookie” exposures show that the most powerful telecoms are running data mining operations that are easily comparable to those of the government.

Aside from AT&T and Verizon, all of the other major tech and communications companies have been implicated in the US government’s global surveillance operations. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Skype and Youtube all allowed the NSA’s PRISM program to collect e-mails, video and audio recordings, documents, photos, and other forms of data from their central servers, over a period of years, as part of secret agreements signed with the US government.

The NSA’s corporate partners are well compensated for their involvement in the mass spying. The NSA’s Corporate Partner Access Program paid some $280 million to tech companies to access and spy on their “high volume circuit and packet-switched networks” in 2012 alone, Snowden leaks from August 2013 showed.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/07/supe-n07.html

Justice Department seeks massive expansion of FBI hacking powers

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By Thomas Gaist
3 November 2014

The US Department of Justice is seeking a massive expansion of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s authority to conduct computer hacking operations against civilian PCs, tablets and smartphones, both within the US and internationally.

Proposed legal amendments submitted by the DOJ, currently under consideration by a little-known body called the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, would allow the FBI to effectively dispense with constitutional restrictions on its computer hacking operations, according to reports produced by the Center for Democracy and Technology and other NGOs.

The DOJ proposes modifying Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which outlines the warranting process police agencies must follow to comply with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, a core element of the US Bill of Rights.

The DOJ amendment states that a central purpose of the new regulations is to allow FBI agents to “use remote access to search electronic storage media to seize or copy electronically stored information.”

Up to now the FBI has been required, by legal regulations based on the Fourth Amendment, to submit individualized warrants showing that hacking the targeted machine was necessary to investigate a suspected criminal. The bureau has also been required to submit specific requests for every aspect of the surveillance operations it wants to execute against the machine (such as activating the camera, seizing or deleting a certain file, or sending a fake email).

Whereas Fourth Amendment-based regulations require that warrants be very specific, the new rules will allow FBI agents to rifle through the entire contents of targeted machines, including audio and video recordings, images captured by laptop cameras, and data from motion sensors and biometric tracking devices.

“While the particularity of a warrant under the 4th Amendment requires the government to specify exactly the materials they seek to search for and seize, the proposed amendment would grant access to a panoply of sensors on modern computing platforms,” the CDT warns.

The Obama DOJ’s “legal” recommendations would streamline the warranting process, allowing the FBI to launch mass hacking operations based on very general criteria that can be reinterpreted to suit the needs of the government.

“The proposed modification to Rule 41 would enable the U.S. government to gain authorization from any district judge in the United States to spread invasive malware – code that may penetrate, search, and copy electronic media without user authorization – to potentially any computer worldwide,” the CDT’s official statement notes.

The bureau’s malware programs give FBI agents unrestricted access to the hard drives and main computing functions of targeted machines, enabling them to perform every conceivable manipulation including:

• stealing and deleting data;

• sending forged emails and other electronic messages;

• using stored photos to create fake online profiles;

• installing software;

• identifying the precise geographical location of the machine.

The most sophisticated and invasive forms of malware, sometimes referred to as “rootkits,” are designed to overcome all antivirus protections and to thwart existing malware removal techniques, embedding themselves in machines permanently.

Boiled down, the bureau’s malware allows it to completely hijack and remotely control targeted computers anywhere on the planet.

The scope of the hacking authority sought by the FBI is essentially infinite. As the CDT noted in its report, “The target device can be potentially any device attached to the Internet from personal computing devices to industrial control systems to Internet voting systems.”

“We are talking here about giving the FBI the green light to hack into any computer in the country or around the world,” commented technologist Chris Soghoian with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The FBI has been developing an elite hacker unit, known as the “Secure Technologies Exploitation Group,” since at least 2007, according to a leaked document cited by the ACLU’s Soghoian.

The DOJ amendments propose to allow such comprehensive hacking operations by the government against any data-bearing devices that fall under any of three general criteria.

• They hold data that is “concealed through technological means”;

• They have been “damaged” by any form of infectious software;

• They are connected with computer networks spanning five or more districts.

The vague and downright bizarre legal concepts advanced by the DOJ’s lawyers grant the FBI authority to implant ultrasophisticated malware on millions and even hundreds of millions of servers, personal computers and Internet accessing devices worldwide. The CDT notes in its report that millions of computers can easily be targeted using these principles.

The “technological concealment” criterion would authorize FBI agents to sift through and sabotage any machine or network that utilizes widely used encryption or antisurveillance software, which are becoming standard practice for any organization remotely critical of the state or the capitalist class.

This criterion may even be used to justify hacking against Facebook users suspected of employing “concealment” by listing an inaccurate location on their profile.

The FBI’s “damaged machine” criterion can be interpreted to include any machine already infected with even relatively weak or benign malware, a category that includes millions of machines worldwide if not more, according to the CDT.

Due to the proliferation of “botnets,” or networks of machines, some numbering in the millions, that have been infected and “bound together” by a sophisticated networking virus, the “five districts networked” criterion will potentially enable the FBI to target millions of machines with a single warrant, according to the CDT.

DOJ further proposes that warrants issued on these grounds by judges in any given district be applicable across the US, a measure that will allow the bureau to go “shopping” for judges willing to sign off on surveillance, according to the CDT’s official statement.

The proposed changes make clear that the new US cyber-policy would violate basic principles of international law, giving the FBI authority to “unilaterally conduct searches of electronic media outside US territory” and spy on foreign targets with impunity, according to the CDT.

The amendments represent “possibly the broadest expansion of extraterritorial surveillance power since the FBI’s inception” according to a legal expert at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

A recent report makes clear that the FBI is already engaged in covert and likely illegal electronic sting operations using malware.

The FBI already sets up electronic “honey pots” that automatically attempt to infiltrate malware onto every machine that visits a targeted web page, a tactic referred to casually as “drive by download,” according to sources cited by Wired magazine this summer.

As part of a recently exposed 2007 “spear phishing” sting operation, the FBI created a fake Associated Press article and sent it to an individual under investigation in an effort to transfer malware to the target’s computer.

Through the DOJ, the Obama administration is spearheading a vast expansion of the American state’s effort to dominate and control the world’s increasingly integrated information system.

The spate of reports hyping alleged Russian and Chinese efforts to hack US corporate and government servers has highlighted the geopolitical implications of this US global hacking agenda. This week, the Wall Street Journal cited claims made by Google and US intelligence that the Russian government has launched a systematic hacking campaign against a number of its border states and NATO governments since 2007, focusing on the Caucasus region and Eastern Europe.

According to sources cited by the Journal, Russian hackers have targeted US-based mercenaries operating in Ukraine, including Academi (formerly Blackwater) and Science Applications International Corp.

Whether or not they are true, these reports illustrate that US hacking operations are being prepared not just against millions of ordinary people, but also against rival powers armed with nuclear weapons.

 

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/11/03/hack-n03.html