Stealing Privacy Back From the NSA
The Constitution and rights of citizens have been abrogated, and powerful technologies developed that routinely and casually violate everyone’s privacy. Neither political party seems very interested in defending these rights. But now some people are pushing back.
The Smartphone Even the NSA May Have Trouble Hacking is Coming Soon by Paul Szoldra [excerpts]
“If you’re worried about the NSA listening in on your smartphone, Silent Circle’s “Blackphone” may be the last best hope…
While the [$629] price is a bit hefty, it comes with impressive features, including fully encrypted voice, text, and video calls, and a virtual private network that anonymizes web surfing — all built on a custom version of Android…
Demand for such a device certainly ramped up after Edward Snowden began leaking top-secret documents detailing NSA surveillance programs, but Silent Circle had been working on the device long before…
The company has taken great pains to ensure it could not give up user data, even if compelled to by a government. While many U.S. companies receive controversial national security letters forcing them to share customer info, Silent Circle is incorporated in Switzerland and has Swiss data centers.
But the main thing that sets the security of the phone apart is that the encryption itself resides only on the handset. While encrypted data passes through the company’s servers, the individual keys necessary to unlock and read the data are only on the phones.
Basically, if Silent Circle was forced to hand over data, all they could give up is a bunch of encrypted gibberish…”
But what about your computer?
An article in New Scientist has some answers:
“Because no one outside the NSA and its partners knows how retro reflectors [listening in on ambient sounds and harvesting keystrokes and on-screen images] operate, security engineers cannot defend against their use. Now a group of security researchers led by Michael Ossmann of Great Scott Gadgets in Evergreen, Colorado, have not only figured out how these devices work, but also recreated them…
An SDR [Software-Defined Radio signal-processing chip] Ossmann designed and built, called HackRF, was a key part of his work in reconstructing the NSA’s retro-reflector systems. Such systems come in two parts – a plantable “reflector” bug and a remote SDR-based receiver.
One reflector, which the NSA called Ragemaster, can be fixed to a computer’s monitor cable to pick up on-screen images. Another, Surlyspawn, sits on the keyboard cable and harvests keystrokes. After a lot of trial and error, Ossmann found these bugs can be remarkably simple devices – little more than a tiny transistor and a 2-centimetre-long wire acting as an antenna.
Getting the information from the bugs is where SDRs come in…
Having figured out how the NSA bugs work, Ossmann says the hackers can now turn their attention to defending against them – and they have launched a website to collate such knowledge, called NSAPlayset.org. "Showing how these devices exploit weaknesses in our systems means we can make them more secure in the future,“ he says.”
— excerpted from Hackers reverse-engineer NSA’s leaked bugging device by Paul Marks
History Repeats: NSA and FBI Abuse of Power 40 Years Ago
One more excerpt, this one from an excellent editorial printed in the Los Angeles Times just at the end of last year:
“In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee, named for its chairman, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), made shocking and still-relevant findings. It found that J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI spied on hundreds of thousands of Americans who dissented against government policy, on the pretext that they were part of a Kremlin-controlled plot.
The bureau went beyond surveillance to mount, in the committee’s words, a "sophisticated vigilante operation” called COINTELPRO to “disrupt” and “neutralize” dissent, turning counterintelligence techniques developed for use against foreign enemies on students protesting the Vietnam War, civil rights groups and nonviolent leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.
FBI officials went so far as to foment violence between the Black Panthers and a rival black power group, United Slaves, in Southern California, the committee found, and then proudly claimed credit for shootings and beatings.
At the University of California, FBI files subsequently uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act show the bureau harassed Mario Savio, a leader of the 1964 Free Speech Movement; waged a concerted campaign to oust UC President Clark Kerr because FBI officials disagreed with his policies; and gave personal and political help to Ronald Reagan, who had been an FBI informer in Hollywood and as governor vowed to crack down on Berkeley protests.
The Church Committee also investigated NSA surveillance and its relationship to its “customer” agencies and their activities.
From 1967 until 1973, the committee said, the NSA targeted the international communications of some 1,200 Americans on a “watch list” of names, submitted mainly by the FBI and other agencies, who ranged from members of radical political groups to celebrities to “ordinary citizens involved in protests against their government.” Among those listed were King, Muhammad Ali and even Church.
These NSA intercepts were an integral part of massive domestic surveillance that targeted citizens because they exercised their constitutional rights, the committee reported. The FBI used the information to develop leads at the same time the bureau was conducting COINTELPRO; the CIA used it to spy on antiwar activists under its “questionable” Operation CHAOS; and the Army to improperly amass files on more than 100,000 U.S. citizens engaged in dissent.
In its defense, the NSA claimed that the communications of Americans had been collected “as an incidental and unintended act in the conduct of the interception of foreign communications.” Sound familiar…?”