Category - Technology

CIA looks to expand its cyber espionage capabilities

Washington Post, By Greg Miller, February 23

CIA Director John Brennan is planning a major expansion of the agency’s cyber-espionage capabilities as part of a broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work, current and former U.S. officials said.

The proposed shift reflects a determination that the CIA’s approach to conventional espionage is increasingly outmoded amid the exploding use of smartphones, social media and other technologies.

U.S. officials said Brennan’s plans call for increased use of cyber capabilities in almost every category of operations — whether identifying foreign officials to recruit as CIA informants, confirming the identities of targets of drone strikes or penetrating Internet-savvy adversaries such as the Islamic State.

Several officials said Brennan’s team has even considered creating a new cyber-directorate — a step that would put the agency’s technology experts on equal footing with the operations and analysis branches, which have been pillars of the CIA’s organizational structure for decades.

Via emptywheel: After Failing at the White House, Then Illegally Hacking SSCI, Brennan Wants Cyber

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL Bill

The Canadian Press, By Alexander Panetta, February 24

Washington – U.S. President Barack Obama made good Tuesday on a threat to veto a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, bringing the two sides in the long-running controversy to a rare point of agreement: their battle is far from over.

”The president’s veto of the Keystone jobs bill is a national embarrassment,” said the top Republican in the House of Representatives, John Boehner.

”We are not going to give up in our efforts to get this pipeline built — not even close.”

[…]

Even the White House concurred that the issue is far from settled. It pointed out that Tuesday’s announcement was a step in a long, winding process — not a final destination.

The president cast the veto as a matter of procedural principle. In his letter to Congress, Obama said the bill he was scrapping had improperly tried to usurp presidential authority.
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F.C.C. Net Neutrality Rules Clear Hurdle as Republicans Concede to Obama

New York Times, By Jonathan Weisman, February 24

Washington – Senior Republicans conceded on Tuesday that the grueling fight with President Obama over the regulation of Internet service appears over, with the president and an army of Internet activists victorious.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected on Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners.

And Republicans on Capitol Hill, who once criticized the plan as “Obamacare for the Internet,” now say they are unlikely to pass a legislative response that would undo perhaps the biggest policy shift since the Internet became a reality.

“We’re not going to get a signed bill that doesn’t have Democrats’ support,” said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. “This is an issue that needs to have bipartisan support.”

Google warns of US government ‘hacking any facility’ in the world

Google says increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise ‘monumental’ legal concerns that should be decided by Congress

The Guardian, By Ed Pilkington, February 18

New York – Google is boldly opposing an attempt by the US Justice Department to expand federal powers to search and seize digital data, warning that the changes would open the door to US “government hacking of any facility” in the world.

In a strongly worded submission to the Washington committee that is considering the proposed changes, Google says that increasing the FBI’s powers set out in search warrants would raise “monumental and highly complex constitutional, legal and geopolitical concerns that should be left to Congress to decide”.

The search giant warns that under updated proposals, FBI agents would be able to carry out covert raids on servers no matter where they were situated, giving the US government unfettered global access to vast amounts of private information.

Huh.

THE CODE: A declassified and unbelievable hostage rescue story

How the Colombian army sent a hidden message to hostages… using a pop song

The Verge, By Jeff Maysh, January 7

Colonel Jose Espejo was a man with a problem. As the Colombian army’s communications expert watched the grainy video again, he saw kidnapped soldiers chained up inside barbed-wire pens in a hostage camp deep in the jungle, guarded by armed FARC guerillas. Some had been hostages for more than 10 years, and many suffered from a grim, flesh-eating disease caused by insect bites.

It was 2010, and the straight-talking Espejo was close to retirement after 22 years of military service. But he couldn’t stand the thought of quitting with men left behind enemy lines. He needed an idea, and when he needed an idea, he always went to one man.

Juan Carlos Ortiz was dunking his kids in the pool at his home in Coconut Grove, Miami, when he got the call from Colonel Espejo. With his easy charm and seemingly natural talent for creating clever commercials, the 42-year-old advertising executive had earned himself a Don Draper-like reputation in Colombia.

The ambitious Ortiz had shot to fame at the Colombian office of Leo Burnett — the legendary ad agency behind Tony the Tiger — where he created an anti-drug TV spot for the Colombian President’s Office. The ad showed an addict on a bus mistaking a fellow passenger’s dandruff for cocaine and snorting it up his nose. It made Ortiz the first Colombian to win a gold Lion at Cannes, the advertising industry’s Oscars. He returned to Bogotá a national hero and received a commendation from the nation’s first lady.

NSA has hidden software in hard drives around the world

Reuters, By Joseph Menn, February 16

San Francisco – The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.

That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen, and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

Human Traffickers Caught on Hidden Internet

A new set of search tools called Memex, developed by DARPA, peers into the “deep Web” to reveal illegal activity.

Scientific American, By Larry Greenemeier, February 8

In November 2012 a 28-year-old woman plunged 15 meters from a bedroom window to the pavement in New York City, a devastating fall that left her body broken but alive. The accident was an act of both desperation and hope—the woman had climbed out of the sixth-floor window to escape a group of men who had been sexually abusing her and holding her captive for two days.

Four months ago the New York County District Attorney’s Office sent Benjamin Gaston, one of the men responsible for the woman’s ordeal, to prison for 50-years-to-life. A key weapon in the prosecutor’s arsenal, according to the NYDA’s Office: an experimental set of Internet search tools the U.S. Department of Defense is developing to help catch and lock up human traffickers.
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Scientist considered father of birth control pill dies

AP, January 31

San Francisco — Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died.

Djerassi died of complications of cancer in his San Francisco home, Stanford University spokesman Dan Stober said. He was 91.

Djerassi, a professor emeritus of chemistry at Stanford, was most famous for leading a research team in Mexico City that in 1951 developed norethindrone, a synthetic molecule that became a key component of the first birth control pill.

“The pill” as it came to be known radically transformed sexual practices and women’s lives. The pill gave women more control over their fertility than they had ever had before and permanently put doctors — who previously didn’t see contraceptives as part of their job — in the birth control picture.

In his book, “This Man’s Pill,” Djerassi said the invention also changed his life, making him more interested in how science affects society.

In 1969, he submitted a public policy article about the global implications of U.S. contraceptive research, according to the Stanford News Service. In 1970, he published another article about the feasibility of a birth control pill for men.

“The thoughts behind these two public policy articles had convinced me that politics, rather than science, would play the dominant role in shaping the future of human birth control,” he wrote.

[…]

“He also is the only person, to my knowledge, to receive from President Nixon the National Medal of Science and to be named on Nixon’s blacklist in the same year,” Zare added.


SF Gate: Stanford chemist who developed birth control pill dead at 91

Mr. Djerassi was not humble about his role in the invention. He wrote three autobiographies, including “The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse,” “In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen,” and, on the 50th anniversary of oral contraception, released a book called “This Man’s Pill,” but his immodesty was well-earned, said colleagues and peers.

Mr. Djerassi had a compelling and lifelong interest, both as a scientist and as an artist, in issues of “individual agency,” and he took pride in the social and cultural shifts that were brought on by the Pill, said Darney. He got to know Mr. Djerassi well during the 1980s, when they worked to bring RU-486 — a drug now called mifepristone that is used to terminate pregnancies — to the United States.

“Carl was interested particularly in individual freedom and self-determination, and believed that all of us, women included, should have that opportunity,” Darney said. “He saw birth control and access to abortion as agents of that opportunity.”


Statement of the Family of Dr. Carl Djerassi, January 30, 2015

Dr. Carl Djerassi, renowned scientist, author, and philanthropist, died peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, in his home in San Francisco, California on Friday, January 30, 2015. Dr. Djerassi’s death resulted from complications due to cancer. He was 91. His life and career included remarkable productivity and achievement in science, academia, and the arts, as well as personal tragedy in his expulsion from his childhood home following the Nazi Anschluss in 1938 and the death of his daughter in 1978.

Dr. Djerassi is survived by his son, Dale Djerassi, stepdaughter Leah Middlebrook, and grandson, Alexander M. Djerassi. He will be missed dearly.

Millions of cars tracked across US in ‘massive’ real-time spying program

American Civil Liberties Union warns scanning of license plates by Drug Enforcement Agency is building a repository of all drivers’ movements.

The Guardian, By Rory Carroll, January 26

Los Angeles – The United States government is tracking the movement of vehicles around the country in a clandestine intelligence-gathering programme that has been condemned as a further official exercise to build a database on people’s lives.

The Drug Enforcement Administration was monitoring license plates on a “massive” scale, giving rise to “major civil liberties concerns”, the American Civil Liberties Union said on Monday night, citing DEA documents obtained under freedom of information.

“This story highlights yet another way government security agencies are seeking to quietly amplify their powers using new technologies,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with ACLU, told the Guardian.

“On this as on so many surveillance issues, we can take action, put in place some common sense limits or sit back and let our society be transformed into a place we won’t recognize – or probably much like.”

[…]

The primary goal was to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking but the database expanded to monitor vehicles associated with other potential crimes, it said.

Barrett Brown sentenced to 63 months for ‘merely linking to hacked material’

The journalist and former Anonymous member says of prison term and fine in statement: ‘They’re sending me to investigate the prison-industrial complex’.

The Guardian, By Nicky Woolf, January 22

New York – In a rebuke to a legion of online supporters and what the journalist and one-time member of Anonymous called a “dangerous precedent”, Barrett Brown was sentenced to 63 months in prison by a federal judge in Dallas on Thursday.

Brown’s backers from across the web had hoped he would be able to walk free with his 31 months of time served for what they insist was “merely linking to hacked material”. But the 33-year-old, who was once considered something of a spokesman for the Anonymous movement, will face more than twice that sentence. The judge also ordered him to pay more than $890,000 in restitution and fines.

In a statement released after his sentencing, Brown was sarcastically upbeat: “Good news!” he wrote. “The US government decided today that because I did such a good job investigating the cyber-industrial complex, they’re now going to send me to investigate the prison-industrial complex.”

[…]

Gallagher warned that the long sentence would nonetheless set a precedent for journalists. “Basically,” he said, “if you share a link to publicly available material without knowing what’s in it – maybe it could contain stolen credit card info – you could be prosecuted.”

“Any journalist that uses hackers as sources is extremely chilled by this,” Gallagher added.

Europe’s answer to France terror ‘attack on free speech’ is greater Internet censorship

After three days of terrorist attacks in the French capital, European leaders are pushing for stronger measures to crack down on online “extremist” content.

ZDNet, By Zack Whittaker, January 12

About half of Europe’s member states are pushing for greater online censorship powers in the wake of the terror attacks in France earlier this month.

In a joint statement, interior ministers from 11 European member states — including Germany, Poland, Spain, and the U.K. — expressed condemnation of the attacks, while stressing further cooperation between their law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Members of the European Union, along with a delegation from the U.S. government — including outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder — adopted, among other sentiments, a resolution to create a partnership of major Internet providers to report and remove material associated with extremism.

“We are concerned at the increasingly frequent use of the Internet to fuel hatred and violence and signal our determination to ensure that the Internet is not abused to this end, while safeguarding that it remains, in scrupulous observance of fundamental freedoms, a forum for free expression, in full respect of the law,” the statement said.

The statement also said the Internet was a focal point in the “fight against radicalization,” and there was a need to strengthen resources across the region, including greater border surveillance.

WSJ Digits blog: France Pushes for Scrubbing Internet of Terrorism-Related Content

France faces 19,000 cyberattacks since terror rampage

AP, By Jamey Keaten & Sylvie Corbet, January 15

Paris – Hackers have targeted about 19,000 French websites since a rampage by Islamic extremists left 20 dead last week, France’s cyberdefense official said Thursday, as the president tried to calm the nation’s inflamed religious tensions.

France is on edge since last week’s attacks, which began Jan. 7 at the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The paper, repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, was burying several of its slain staff members Thursday.

[…]

“What’s new, what’s important, is that this is 19,000 sites — that’s never been seen before,” Coustilliere said. “This is the first time that a country has been faced with such a large wave of cyber-contestation.”

Coustilliere called the attacks a response to the massive demonstrations against terrorism that drew 3.7 million people into the streets Sunday across France. He pointed to “more or less structured groups” that used tactics like posting symbols of jihadist groups on companies’ Web sites.

FCC Chairman Hints at Re-Regulating Net Under Phone System Rules

ReCode, By Amy Schatz, January 7

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hinted broadly Wednesday that a new net neutrality proposal he plans to release in the next few weeks will rely on re-regulating Internet lines under old rules written for phone networks.

“The issue here is how do we make sure consumers and innovators have open access to networks,” Wheeler said during a Q&A at International CES. He plans to circulate the proposal among other FCC commissioners on February 5, with a vote on the plan later in the month.

Wheeler’s remarks weren’t that surprising. Re/code (and others) reported previously that he had been planning to suggest re-regulating Internet lines under Title II of the Communications Act, which would give the agency clearer authority to act as an Internet traffic cop. That expectation grew after President Obama not-too-subtly suggested he take that route in November.

After considering various ways of using Title II over the summer, Wheeler said he became convinced it was the way to go because it would give consumers and innovators “the best protections” under the law.


Tech group finds firm legal footing for reclassifying Web

The Hill, By Mario Trujillo, January 6

A trade group representing major technology companies said the Federal Communications Commission would be on firm legal footing if it reclassified the Internet as a public utility.

The Internet Association said changes in how the Internet is viewed and a court decision last year striking down previous open Internet rules give the FCC justification to make the change, which would allow the commission to enforce stricter regulation.

The group — which represents Netflix, Google, Amazon, Yahoo and many more firms — said the commission should avoid enforcing all but a handful of sections of the authority that comes with reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

“The undersigned believe that of the 48 sections of the Title II, only a few may need be applied to broadband Internet access service to preserve an open Internet,” the group’s chief executive, Michael Beckerman, said Tuesday in a filing with the FCC.

From a Pile of Dirt, Researchers Discover New Antibiotic

A new microfluidic device lets scientists identify a powerful drug from nature.

Technology Review, By Karen Weintraub, January 7

A plastic storage crate filled with backyard dirt might have yielded the most powerful antibiotic discovered in decades.

Employing a novel microfluidic device to grow soil bacteria, researchers in Boston and Bonn, Germany, say they have identified a new type of antibiotic that kills the bacteria that cause pneumonia, staph, and blood infections.

The antibiotic, named teixobactin, has yet to be tested in people. But it cured mice of these infections, and it is so different from current antibiotics that the scientists, who reported their findings today in the journal Nature, said they hoped germs might never become resistant to it.

Others said resistance to any antibiotic is inevitable, but they called the discovery important nonetheless. “It brings back the notion that there are lots of unanticipated surprises still lurking in the soil,” says Gerald Fink, a microbiologist at the Whitehead Institute, part of MIT.

[…]

Teixobactin appears to kill bacteria by binding to a fat molecule that is a building block of their cell walls. That’s an unusual mechanism, says Tanja Schneider, a researcher at the University of Bonn who worked on the project. Bacteria might not easily develop resistance to it, if ever.

Via the comments to the article, a link to another drug farther along the development pipeline: Brilacidin

Congress Passes Bill Giving Police Unlimited Access to Citizens’ Private Communications

“One of the most egregious sections of law I’ve encountered during my time as a representative: It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American.”

The Free Thought Project, By Jay Syrmopoulos, December 11

Washington, DC – In a sneak attack on the civil liberties of all Americans, the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015 was rushed to the House floor with a dangerous Senate amendment added to section 309 with virtually no debate.

The legislation was scheduled for only a “voice vote,” which means that it is simply declared “passed” with voice votes and no record.

This is considered the simplest and quickest voting method, not what one would expect from such an important piece of legislation. For most pieces of major legislation, a roll call vote would be the standard operating procedure.

Thankfully, Representative Justin Amash, when catching wind of what was transpiring, went to the House floor to demand a roll call vote so that everyone would have to have their vote recorded.

The fact that this important piece of legislation was handled in this way indicates that this was done intentionally to sneak it past the public eye. It becomes even more suspicious when you realize that it was done concurrently with the CIA torture report being released and the Gruber hearing.

EFF: EFF Statement on the 2015 Intelligence Authorization Bill
Congress.gov: H.R.4681 – Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 – this site indicates that this bill has become law…

Sec. 309) Requires each element of the intelligence community to adopt Attorney General-approved procedures for any intelligence collection activity not otherwise authorized by court order or subpoena that is reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of nonpublic telephone or electronic communications to or from a U.S. person, including communications in electronic storage, without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication.

Requires the procedures to permit acquisition, retention, and dissemination of such communications but prohibit retention in excess of five years unless:

  • the communication constitutes, or is necessary to understand or assess, foreign intelligence or counterintelligence;
  • the communication constitutes evidence of a crime and is retained by a law enforcement agency;
  • the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning;
  • all parties to the communication are reasonably believed to be non-U.S. persons;
  • retention is necessary to protect against an imminent threat to human life (in which case the information must be reported to Congress within 30 days of the date such retention is extended) or for technical assurance or compliance purposes, including a court order or discovery obligation (in which case the information must be reported to Congress annually); or
  • the head of an element of the intelligence community approves retention for a period in excess of five years if necessary to protect U.S. national security.

Requires the head of an element approving retention in excess of five years for national security purposes to certify to Congress: (1) the reasons extended retention is necessary to protect U.S. national security, (2) the duration of the retention, (3) the particular information to be retained, and (4) the measures being taken to protect the privacy interests of U.S. persons or persons located inside the United States.

Telesur: US Lawmakers Pass Spending Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown

Another controversial aspect of the bill was that it failed to include a Senate Defense Appropriations panel measure that would have required the National Security Agency to report to Congress on its bulk phone metadata program.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Reps also approved a separate policy bill called the “Intelligence Authorization Act for 2015,” for U.S. spy agencies on Wednesday, which permits “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of Americans’ communications without a court order or subpoena.

Carefully buried in the law is “a troubling new provision that for the first time statutorily authorizes spying on U.S. citizens without legal process,” (Rep.) Justin Amash told lawmakers.

“It grants the executive branch virtually unlimited access to the communications of every American,” Amash explains.

Network World: Congress gave feds the gift of constitutional spying on Americans’ communications