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  • Wired Profiles John Brooks, the Programmer Behind Ricochet

    wabrandsma writes with this excerpt from Wired: John Brooks, who is just 22 and a self-taught coder who dropped out of school at 13, was always concerned about privacy and civil liberties. Four years ago he began work on a program for encrypted instant messaging that uses Tor hidden services for the protected transmission of communications. The program, which he dubbed Ricochet, began as a hobby. But by the time he finished, he had a full-fledged desktop client that was easy to use, offered anonymity and encryption, and even resolved the issue of metadata—the "to" and "from" headers and IP addresses spy agencies use to identify and track communications—long before the public was aware that the NSA was routinely collecting metadata in bulk for its spy programs. The only problem Brooks had with the program was that few people were interested in using it. Although he'd made Ricochet's code open source, Brooks never had it formally audited for security and did nothing to promote it, so few people even knew about it.

    Then the Snowden leaks happened and metadata made headlines. Brooks realized he already had a solution that resolved a problem everyone else was suddenly scrambling to fix. Though ordinary encrypted email and instant messaging protect the contents of communications, metadata allows authorities to map relationships between communicants and subpoena service providers for subscriber information that can help unmask whistleblowers, journalists's sources and others.

    49 comments | 2 days ago

  • Snowden's Leaks Didn't Help Terrorists

    HughPickens.com writes The Intercept reports that contrary to lurid claims made by U.S. officials, a new independent analysis of Edward Snowden's revelations on NSA surveillance that examined the frequency of releases and updates of encryption software by jihadi groups has found no correlation in either measure to Snowden's leaks about the NSA's surveillance techniques. According to the report "well prior to Edward Snowden, online jihadists were already aware that law enforcement and intelligence agencies were attempting to monitor them (PDF)." In fact, concerns about terrorists' use of sophisticated encryption technology predates even 9/11.

    Earlier this month former NSA head Michael Hayden stated, "The changed communications practices and patterns of terrorist groups following the Snowden revelations have impacted our ability to track and monitor these groups", while Matthew Olsen of the National Counterterrorism Center would add "Following the disclosure of the stolen NSA documents, terrorists are changing how they communicate to avoid surveillance." Snowden's critics have previously accused his actions of contributing from everything from the rise of ISIS to Russia's invasion of the Ukraine. "This most recent study is the most comprehensive repudiation of these charges to date," says Murtaza Hussain. "Contrary to lurid claims to the contrary, the facts demonstrate that terrorist organizations have not benefited from the NSA revelations, nor have they substantially altered their behavior in response to them."

    182 comments | 5 days ago

  • NSA Director Says Agency Is Still Trying To Figure Out Cyber Operations

    Trailrunner7 writes: In a keynote speech at a security conference in Washington on Tuesday, new NSA Director Mike Rogers emphasized a need to establish behavioral norms for cyber war. "We're still trying to work our way through distinguishing the difference between criminal hacking and an act of war," said Rogers. "If this was easy, we would have figured it out years ago. We have a broad consensus about what constitutes an act of war, what's an act of defense." Rogers went on to explain that we need to better establish standardized terminology and standardized norms like those that exist in the realm of nuclear deterrence. Unfortunately, unlike in traditional national defense, we can not assume that the government will be able to completely protect us against cyber-threats because the threat ecosystem is just too broad.

    103 comments | about a week ago

  • New Details About NSA's Exhaustive Search of Edward Snowden's Emails

    An anonymous reader points out this Vice story with new information about the NSA's search of Edward Snowden's emails. Last year, the National Security Agency (NSA) reviewed all of Edward Snowden's available emails in addition to interviewing NSA employees and contractors in order to determine if he had ever raised concerns internally about the agency's vast surveillance programs. According to court documents the government filed in federal court September 12, NSA officials were unable to find any evidence Snowden ever had.

    In a sworn declaration, David Sherman, the NSA's associate director for policy and records, said the agency launched a "comprehensive" investigation after journalists began to write about top-secret NSA spy programs upon obtaining documents Snowden leaked to them. The investigation included searches of any records where emails Snowden sent raising concerns about NSA programs "would be expected to be found within the agency." Sherman, who has worked for the NSA since 1985, is a "original classification authority," which means he can classify documents as "top-secret" and process, review, and redact records the agency releases in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

    In his declaration, Sherman detailed steps he said agency officials took to track down any emails Snowden wrote that contained evidence he'd raised concerns inside the agency. Sherman said the NSA searched sent, received, deleted emails from Snowden's account and emails "obtained by restoring back-up tapes." He noted that NSA officials reviewed written reports and notes from interviews with "NSA affiliates" with whom the agency spoke during its investigation.

    200 comments | about a week ago

  • Treasure Map: NSA, GCHQ Work On Real-Time "Google Earth" Internet Observation

    wabrandsma) writes with the latest accusations about NSA spying activity in Germany. According to top-secret documents from the NSA and the British agency GCHQ, the intelligence agencies are seeking to map the entire Internet.
    Furthermore, every single end device that is connected to the Internet somewhere in the world — every smartphone, tablet and computer — is to be made visible. Such a map doesn't just reveal one treasure. There are millions of them. The breathtaking mission is described in a Treasure Map presentation from the documents of the former intelligence service employee Edward Snowden which SPIEGEL has seen. It instructs analysts to "map the entire Internet — Any device, anywhere, all the time." Treasure Map allows for the creation of an "interactive map of the global Internet" in "near real-time," the document notes. Employees of the so-called "FiveEyes" intelligence agencies from Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which cooperate closely with the American agency NSA, can install and use the program on their own computers. One can imagine it as a kind of Google Earth for global data traffic, a bird's eye view of the planet's digital arteries.

    266 comments | about a week ago

  • NSA Metadata Collection Gets 90-Day Extension

    schwit1 sends word that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has authorized a 90-day extension to the NSA's ability to collect bulk metadata about U.S. citizens' phone calls. In April, the House of Representatives passed a bill to limit the NSA's collection of metadata, but the Senate has been working on their version of the bill since then without yet voting on it. Because of this, and the alleged importance of continuing intelligence operations, the government sought a 90-day reauthorization of the current program. The court agreed. Senator Patrick Leahy said this clearly demonstrates the need to get this legislation passed. "We cannot wait any longer, and we cannot defer action on this important issue until the next Congress. This announcement underscores, once again, that it is time for Congress to enact meaningful reforms to protect individual privacy.

    73 comments | about two weeks ago

  • U.S. Threatened Massive Fine To Force Yahoo To Release Data

    Advocatus Diaboli writes The U.S. government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day in 2008 if it failed to comply with a broad demand to hand over user data that the company believed was unconstitutional, according to court documents unsealed Thursday that illuminate how federal officials forced American tech companies to participate in the NSA's controversial PRISM program. The documents, roughly 1,500 pages worth, outline a secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle by Yahoo to resist the government's demands. The company's loss required Yahoo to become one of the first to begin providing information to PRISM, a program that gave the National Security Agency extensive access to records of online communications by users of Yahoo and other U.S.-based technology firms.

    223 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Research Finds No Large-Scale Exploits of Heartbleed Before Disclosure

    Trailrunner7 writes: In the days and weeks following the public disclosure of the OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability in April, security researchers and others wondered aloud whether there were some organizations – perhaps the NSA – that had known about the bug for some time and had been using it for targeted attacks. A definitive answer to that question may never come, but traffic data collected by researchers on several large networks shows no large-scale exploit attempts in the months leading up to the public disclosure.

    "For all four networks, over these time periods our detector found no evidence of any exploit attempt up through April 7, 2014. This provides strong evidence that at least for those time periods, no attacker with prior knowledge of Heartbleed conducted widespread scanning looking for vulnerable servers. Such scanning however could have occurred during other time periods." That result also doesn't rule out the possibility that an attacker or attackers may have been doing targeted reconnaissance on specific servers or networks. The researchers also conducted similar monitoring of the four networks, and noticed that the first attempted exploits occurred within 24 hours of the OpenSSL disclosure.

    20 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Feds Say NSA "Bogeyman" Did Not Find Silk Road's Servers

    An anonymous reader writes The secret of how the FBI pinpointed the servers allegedly used by the notorious Silk Road black market website has been revealed: repeated login attempts. In a legal rebuttal, the FBI claims that repeatedly attempting to login to the marketplace revealed its host location. From the article: "As they typed 'miscellaneous' strings of characters into the login page's entry fields, Tarbell writes that they noticed an IP address associated with some data returned by the site didn't match any known Tor 'nodes,' the computers that bounce information through Tor's anonymity network to obscure its true source. And when they entered that IP address directly into a browser, the Silk Road's CAPTCHA prompt appeared, the garbled-letter image designed to prevent spam bots from entering the site. 'This indicated that the Subject IP Address was the IP address of the SR Server,' writes Tarbell in his letter, 'and that it was "leaking" from the SR Server because the computer code underlying the login interface was not properly configured at the time to work on Tor.'"

    142 comments | about two weeks ago

  • Shadowy Tech Brokers Deliver Data To the NSA

    An anonymous reader notes an article about a group of companies whose business is to wiretap various ISPs (with permission) to gather data in response to federal subpoenas. Many smaller ISPs don't have the resources to deal with the flood of data requests from agencies like the NSA, so they outsource compliance and collection in order to keep costs down. The article profiles one of these companies, called Neustar: Neustar can in many cases execute the warrant from anywhere within the U.S., keeping within the bounds of the country's surveillance law. But when a wiretap device is needed, they are not hard to come by. Most networking equipment makers sell devices that can be used to collect data, or used to inspect data — so-called deep-packet inspection devices, which can also be used to prevent piracy, the spread of malware, and website access, all at the Internet provider level. Once a FISA warrant is issued, so-called "tasking" orders, which contain selectors — like a phone number or an email address — are often sent electronically to the ISP. These tell the ISP or phone company, or third-parties like Neustar, exactly where to wiretap and what data to collect to hand back to the requesting authority.

    35 comments | about two weeks ago

  • First US Appeals Court Hears Arguments To Shut Down NSA Database

    An anonymous reader writes: The second of two lawsuits filed against the U.S. government regarding domestic mass surveillance, ACLU vs. Clapper, was heard on Tuesday by "a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit." The proceeding took an unprecedented two hours (the norm is about 30 minutes), and C-SPAN was allowed to record the whole thing and make the footage available online (video). ACLU's lawyers argued that mass surveillance without warrants violates the 4th Amendment, while lawyers for the federal government argued that provisions within the Patriot Act that legalize mass surveillance without warrants have already been carefully considered and approved by all three branches of government. The judges have yet to issue their ruling.

    199 comments | about three weeks ago

  • Mysterious, Phony Cell Towers Found Throughout US

    Trachman writes: Popular Science magazine recently published an article about a network of cell towers owned not by telecommunication companies but by unknown third parties. Many of them are built around U.S. military bases. "Interceptors vary widely in expense and sophistication – but in a nutshell, they are radio-equipped computers with software that can use arcane cellular network protocols and defeat the onboard encryption. ... Some interceptors are limited, only able to passively listen to either outgoing or incoming calls. But full-featured devices like the VME Dominator, available only to government agencies, can not only capture calls and texts, but even actively control the phone, sending out spoof texts, for example."

    237 comments | about three weeks ago

  • The Executive Order That Led To Mass Spying, As Told By NSA Alumni

    An anonymous reader writes with this Ars piece about the executive order that is the legal basis for the U.S. government's mass spying on citizens. One thing sits at the heart of what many consider a surveillance state within the US today. The problem does not begin with political systems that discourage transparency or technologies that can intercept everyday communications without notice. Like everything else in Washington, there's a legal basis for what many believe is extreme government overreach—in this case, it's Executive Order 12333, issued in 1981. “12333 is used to target foreigners abroad, and collection happens outside the US," whistleblower John Tye, a former State Department official, told Ars recently. "My complaint is not that they’re using it to target Americans, my complaint is that the volume of incidental collection on US persons is unconstitutional.” The document, known in government circles as "twelve triple three," gives incredible leeway to intelligence agencies sweeping up vast quantities of Americans' data. That data ranges from e-mail content to Facebook messages, from Skype chats to practically anything that passes over the Internet on an incidental basis. In other words, EO 12333 protects the tangential collection of Americans' data even when Americans aren't specifically targeted—otherwise it would be forbidden under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.

    180 comments | about three weeks ago

  • 850 Billion NSA Surveillance Records Searchable By Domestic Law Enforcement

    onproton (3434437) writes The Intercept reported today on classified documents revealing that the NSA has built its own "Google-like" search engine to provide over 850 billion collected records directly to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the DEA. Reporter Ryan Gallagher explains, "The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies." The search engine, called ICREACH, allows analysts to search an array of databases, some of which contain metadata collected on innocent American citizens, for the purposes of "foreign intelligence." However, questions have been raised over its potential for abuse in what is known as "parallel construction," a process in which agencies use surveillance resources in domestic investigations, and then later cover it up by creating a different evidence trail to use in court.

    207 comments | about a month ago

  • NSA Agents Leak Tor Bugs To Developers

    An anonymous reader writes: We've known for a while that NSA specifically targets Tor, because they want to disrupt one of the last remaining communication methods they aren't able to tap or demand access to. However, not everybody at the NSA is on board with this strategy. Tor developer Andrew Lewman says even as flaws in Tor are rooted out by the NSA and British counterpart GCHQ, other agents from the two organizations leak those flaws directly to the developers, so they can be fixed quickly. He said, "You have to think about the type of people who would be able to do this and have the expertise and time to read Tor source code from scratch for hours, for weeks, for months, and find and elucidate these super-subtle bugs or other things that they probably don't get to see in most commercial software." Lewman estimates the Tor Project receives these reports on a monthly basis. He also spoke about how a growing amount of users will affect Tor. He suggests a massive company like Google or Facebook will eventually have to take up the task of making Tor scale up to millions of users.

    116 comments | about a month ago

  • Smartphone Kill Switch, Consumer Boon Or Way For Government To Brick Your Phone?

    MojoKid writes We're often told that having a kill switch in our mobile devices — mostly our smartphones — is a good thing. At a basic level, that's hard to disagree with. If every mobile device had a built-in kill switch, theft would go down — who would waste their time over a device that probably won't work for very long? Here's where the problem lays: It's law enforcement that's pushing so hard for these kill switches. We first learned about this last summer, and this past May, California passed a law that requires smartphone vendors to implement the feature. In practice, if a smartphone has been stolen, or has been somehow compromised, its user or manufacturer would be able to remotely kill off its usability, something that would be reversed once the phone gets back into its rightful owner's hands. However, such functionality should be limited to the device's owner, and no one else. If the owner can disable a phone with nothing but access to a computer or another mobile device, so can Google, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia or Apple. If the designers of a phone's operating system can brick a phone, guess who else can do the same? Everybody from the NSA to your friendly neighborhood police force, that's who. At most, all they'll need is a convincing argument that they're acting in the interest of "public safety."

    299 comments | about a month ago

  • German Intelligence Spying On Allies, Recorded Kerry, Clinton, and Kofi Annan

    cold fjord writes: According to Foreign Policy, "The revelation that Germany spies on Turkey, a NATO member, should dispel any notion that spying on allies violates the unwritten rules of international espionage. ... For nearly a year, the extent of NSA surveillance on German leaders ... has drawn stern rebuke from the German political and media establishment. ... Merkel went so far as to publicly oust the CIA station chief in Berlin. 'Spying among friends is not at all acceptable,' Merkel said. ... [C]alls made by Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were accidentally recorded. ... 'It's a kind of delightful revelation given the fact that the Germans have been on their high horse.' Christian Whiton, a former ... State Department senior advisor, added that the report on German spying is a perfect example of why rifts over intelligence among allies should be handled quietly and privately." The Wall Street Journal adds, "Cem Özdemir, the head of the Green party and a leading German politician of Turkish descent, told Spiegel Online it would be 'irresponsible' for German spies not to target Turkey given its location as a transit country for Islamic State militants from Europe." Further details at Spiegel Online and The Wall Street Journal."

    170 comments | about a month ago

  • Leaked Documents: GCHQ Made Port-Scanning Entire Countries a Standard Spy Tool

    Advocatus Diaboli writes with this excerpt from Heise: Since the early days of TCP, port scanning has been used by computer saboteurs to locate vulnerable systems. In a new set of top secret documents seen by Heise, it is revealed that in 2009, the British spy agency GCHQ made port scans a "standard tool" to be applied against entire nations. Twenty-seven countries are listed as targets of the HACIENDA program in the presentation, which comes with a promotional offer: readers desiring to do reconnaissance against another country need simply send an e-mail. Also from the article: The list of targeted services includes ubiquitous public services such as HTTP and FTP, as well as common administrative protocols such as SSH (Secure SHell protocol – used for remote access to systems) and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol – used for network administration) (Figure 4). Given that in the meantime, port scanning tools like Zmap have been developed which allow anyone to do comprehensive scans, it is not the technology used that is shocking, but rather the gargantuan scale and pervasiveness of the operation.

    58 comments | about a month ago

  • Snowden: NSA Working On Autonomous Cyberwarfare Bot

    WIRED published a long piece on Edward Snowden today (worth a read on its own), and simultaneously broke news of "MonsterMind," an NSA program to monitor all network traffic and detect attacks, responding with a counterattack automatically. From the article: Although details of the program are scant, Snowden tells WIRED in an extensive interview with James Bamford that algorithms would scour massive repositories of metadata and analyze it to differentiate normal network traffic from anomalous or malicious traffic. Armed with this knowledge, the NSA could instantly and autonomously identify, and block, a foreign threat. More than this, though, Snowden suggests MonsterMind could one day be designed to return fire — automatically, without human intervention... Snowden raised two issues with the program: the source of an attack could be spoofed to trick the U.S. into attacking an innocent third party, and the violation of the fourth amendment since the NSA would effectively need to monitor all domestic network traffic for the program to work. Also in Bamford's interview are allegations that the NSA knocked Syria offline in 2012 after an attempt to install intercept software on an edge router ended with the router being bricked.

    194 comments | about a month ago

  • New NSA-Funded Code Rolls All Programming Languages Into One

    An anonymous reader writes "What's your favorite programming language? Is it CSS? Is it JavaScript? Is it PHP, HTML5, or something else? Why choose? A new programming language developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University is all of those and more — one of the world's first "polyglot" programming languages. Sound cool? It is, except its development is partially funded by the National Security Agency, so let's look at it with a skeptical eye. It's called Wyvern — named after a mythical dragon-like thing that only has two legs instead of four — and it's supposed to help programmers design apps and websites without having to rely on a whole bunch of different stylesheets and different amalgamations spread across different files.

    306 comments | about a month and a half ago

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