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                    State-sponsored hackers offer offensive capabilities

Government agents recently congregated with surveillance and telecommunications firms to purchase high-tech hacking tools at a secretive spy conference:

In a luxury Washington, DC, hotel last month, governments from around the world gathered to discuss surveillance technology they would rather you did not know about. The annual Intelligence Support Systems (ISS) World Americas conference is a mecca for representatives from intelligence agencies and law enforcement. But to the media or members of the public, it is strictly off limits.

Gone are the days when mere telephone wiretaps satisfied authorities' intelligence needs. Behind the cloak of secrecy at the ISS World conference, tips are shared about the latest advanced "lawful interception" methods used to spy on citizens – computer hacking, covert bugging and GPS tracking. Smartphones, email, instant message services and free chat services such as Skype have revolutionised communication. This has been matched by the development of increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology. [...]

The use of such methods is more commonly associated with criminal hacking groups, who have used spyware and trojan viruses to infect computers and steal bank details or passwords. But as the internet has grown, intelligence agencies and law enforcement have adopted similar techniques.

Last month, a scandal was uncovered in Germany where authorities were found to have deployed “Trojan horse” software:

On Saturday, the CCC announced that it had been given hard drives containing a "state spying software" which had allegedly been used by German investigators to carry out surveillance of Internet communication. The organization had analyzed the software and found it to be full of defects. They also found that it transmitted information via a server located in the US. As well as its surveillance functions, it could be used to plant files on an individual's computer. It was also not sufficiently protected, so that third parties with the necessary technical skills could hijack the Trojan horse's functions for their own ends. The software possibly violated German law, the organization said.

So-called Trojan horse software can be surreptitiously delivered by a harmless-looking e-mail and installed on a user's computer without their knowledge, where it can be used to, for example, scan the contents of a hard drive. […]

If the CCC's claims are true, then the software has functions which were expressly forbidden by Germany's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, in a landmark 2008 ruling which significantly restricted what was allowed in terms of online surveillance. The court also specified that online spying was only permissible if there was concrete evidence of danger to individuals or society.

In 2009, it was reported that a U.S. firm sold a telecom company spyware which was embedded in a routine software update to customers:

An update pushed out to BlackBerry users on the Etisalat network in the United Arab Emirates appears to contain remotely-triggered spyware that allows the interception of messages and emails, as well as crippling battery life.

Sent out as a WAP Push message, the update installs a Java file that one curious customer decided to take a closer look at, only to discover an application intended to intercept both email and text messages, sending a copy to an Etisalat server without the user being aware of anything beyond a slightly excessive battery drain.

Of course, this is all old hat for the U.S. government which in the 1980s not only deployed automated spying software but modified and sold it on the black market, allowing none other than Oliver North to track political opponents:

Lt. Col. Oliver North also may have been using the program. According to several intelligence community sources, PROMIS was in use at a 6,100-square-foot command center built on the sixth floor of the Justice Department. According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings, Oliver North had a similar, but smaller, White House operations room that was connected by computer link to the DOJ's command center.

Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States as part of a domestic emergency preparedness program, commissioned under Reagan's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to sources and published reports. Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of anyone ever arrested for a political protest, for example, or anyone who had ever refused to pay their taxes. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon's enemies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy's blacklist look downright crude. This operation was so sensitive that when Rep. Jack Brooks asked North about it during the Iran-Contra hearings, the hearing was immediately suspended pending an executive (secret) conference. When the hearings were reconvened, the issue of North's FEMA dealings was dropped.

By 2005, the Bush administration had expanded their list of undesirables to 8 million people:

While Comey, who left the Department of Justice in 2005, has steadfastly refused to comment further on the matter, a number of former government employees and intelligence sources with independent knowledge of domestic surveillance operations claim the program that caused the flap between Comey and the White House was related to a database of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government’s data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, “There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (15+ / 0-)

    What we are seeing today is not an aberration; the aberration is only that we are seeing it, and what we are seeing is still not most of it.

    by The Anomaly on Wed Nov 02, 2011 at 09:10:21 PM PDT

  •  You know there was a time when this would be (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    peptabysmal, Sandino, Bluefin, DRo, kurt

    SOOOOOOOOO shocking that it would be on the front page of every paper in the nation.  Those days are gone and I bet there are a bevy of people that wouldn't even care offer the old bromide, "Since I'm not doing anything wrong, who cares?"

    It infuriates me to think that the government keeps lists like this or has the capability to make them.  Apparently, the last several decades of privacy slashing has rendered this: Privacy is just so yesterday.

    202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them.

    by cany on Wed Nov 02, 2011 at 09:40:30 PM PDT

    •  now it's a consumer product. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peptabysmal, Otteray Scribe, Bluefin, cany

      And everyone wants one.

      "Smart" phones, "smart" meters, "smart" this and "smart" that, and even "smart" toilets; Google Voice and Google Mail and Google watching your webcam while you're reading this.  Facebook and "social" media sites that automatically "share" you like a meal, whether you want to be "shared" or not.  

      "Oooooh, shiny!"

      "What do you mean you don't have a (whatever)?!  Everybody has one!"

      "Sorry but your job application was turned down (because our corporate spies found out you hang around with the wrong people online)."

      "Sorry, we can't (rent/sell) you the house...."

      "Sorry, credit declined."

      "Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry."

      Yeah it's fucking sorry alright.

      "Minus one vote for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

      by G2geek on Wed Nov 02, 2011 at 11:56:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm sort of a techo luddite, so a lot of those (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        G2geek

        are not owned by me or used by me.

        I tend to stay away from things that don't serve a hugely meaningful purpose in my life and those things I have to get the 15 year-old up the street to explain to me:)

        202-224-3121 to Congress in D.C. USE it! You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage them.

        by cany on Thu Nov 03, 2011 at 10:58:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  My favorite must be the Stuxnet worm. (0+ / 0-)

    The Stuxnet worm was most probably created by the CIA.

    Its payload? It wakes up, then checks to see if the computer where it's running is being used to control industrial centrifuge equipment, specifically, in Iran specifically. If one or the other of these things isn't true, it goes back to sleep and eventually erases itself. If it IS driving an industrial centrifuge in Iran, the virus takes over the control software and breaks the centrifuge.

    It did almost no damage worldwide. But it crippled Iran's nascent nuclear weapons program.

    Sometimes the good guys fight cyber-war too.

    I support torturous regimes! Also, I kick puppies.

    by eataTREE on Thu Nov 03, 2011 at 03:42:28 AM PDT

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