Category Archives: Freedom

Boiling Privacy Frogs

I really wish that I understood more about psychology and the human condition. The behaviour that puzzles me over and over again and for which I have no explanation is our ability to observe something happening that is detrimental to us in every way and yet do nothing.

It is the “Boiling Frog Phenomenon” which was allegedly a 19th century science experiment where a frog was placed in a pan of boiling water, the frog quickly jumped out. However, when the frog was put in cold water and the water slowly boiled over time, the frog did not perceive the danger and just boiled to death. The hypothesis being that the change in temperature was so gradual that the frog did not realize it was boiling to death.

To demonstrate the same effect in terms of the privacy, surveillance, unwarranted government intrusion debate just trace the evolving public attitude to the J. Edgar Hoover’s Subversive Files, COINTELPRO, The Iraq WMD Lie, Snowden & PRISM, and WikiLeaks Vault 7.

I have come to the conclusion that in relation to our right to privacy that we are all frogs in tepid water, the temperature of which is starting to rise rapidly, and we have no intention of jumping out.

ENDS

The Laurel & Hardy of Cybersecurity

When Turnbull and Brandis shuffle off to some home for the bewildered in a few years it is all of us that will be left with the legacy of their carry-on.

Here are some of the victories that these two beauties have presided over, and they don’t even know how it works, not even a little bit:

In an effort to drag the continent out from under the “stupid boy” stereotype, the Lowy Institute for International Policy, has just attempted to polish a turd by proposing that despite everything “Australia might be on the right encryption-cracking track” after all.

“From a cyber security perspective, as Patrick Gray has pointed out, sufficient safeguards could be placed around these ‘updates’ to ensure that they couldn’t be reverse engineered – they wouldn’t need to be a ‘backdoor,’ open to abuse. And by focusing on a device rather than a specific app, the displacement effect, so obvious in focusing government efforts on just What’s App or Telegram, would not apply.

In theory then, this model appears promising. How closely it aligns with the legislation promised by Turnbull and George Brandis last week remains to be seen. But whichever legislative model Australia pursues, its progress will be watched closely by governments across the world. And of course, by a whole host of technology and communications companies.

Recent developments suggest that underneath the techno-babble, political point scoring and counter-terrorism blame game, governments the world over are faced by a very real policy problem. Australia may prove to be the test case for a policy solution that has far reaching consequences for privacy, technological development and the future of law enforcement operations.”

Try again gents.

ENDS

Australia Is A Proxy War for the Five Eyes & Also Hogwarts

The Aussie government is pushing a Five Eyes agenda. Australia seems to have become a proxy war in the ongoing assault on privacy. They are to the Surveillance Wars what Yemen is to the Saudi-Iran ideological conflict. It is always a good idea to vary the cast but in reality they are May acolytes. A testing ground.

The amount of nonsense emanating from the encryption debate Down Under though is astonishing. If you have not been keeping up to speed with some of the recent comments down under then here is a quick recap for you:

  1. The George Brandis metadata interview;
  2. George again (36th Attorney-General for Australia) and the summary of his “over a cuppa” conversation with the GCHQ chappie on the feasibility of reading messages sent by platforms implementing end to end encryption such as WhatsApp and Signal – “Last Wednesday I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ … And he assured me that this was feasible.”;
  3. Malcolm Turnbull (the Prime Minister) and his alternative theory on the exceptional laws that govern Australian reality “Well, the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only laws that applies in Australia is the law of Australia”;
  4. And a much more eloquent articulation by Troy Hunt of the whole phenomenon “Firstly, a quick apology from Australia: we’re sorry. Look, our Prime Minister and Attorney General didn’t try to launch us onto the World Encryption Comedy Stage but unfortunately, here we are.

In an effort to find something of the same equivalence on the stupidity index as 1-3 above I chose to google “Harry Potter and places where the laws of mathematics do not apply, excluding Australia and Hogwarts”.

One of the things that I found in the search results was the perfectly reasonably comment by a HP fan on a Reddit forum that “Gamp’s Laws of Transfiguration and the Fundamental Laws of Magic spring to mind, they’re pretty much what you can and can’t do with magic. They’re a lot like Newton’s Laws in that they both deal with nature.

This guy really meant it and so did the other guys he was chatting with. They all really, really believed or rather really, really wanted to believe that it was all real and true and factual.

Just like Brandis and Turnbull believe.

Totally lost in a universe of their own creation where mathematics and people work differently.

And then I found a scholarly dissertation by Shevaun Donelli O’Connell of Indiana University of Pennsylvania titled “Harry Potter and the Order of the Metatext: A Study of Nonfiction Fan Compositions and Disciplinary Writing

” which said on P.24 that “I already knew that Harry Potter was an important part of my relationships with my family and friends, but increasingly I realized that Harry Potter metaphors and analogies were working their way into my thinking and teaching about writing.“.

And there it was. The struggle is real. It seems many, many people are having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Christ help us when VRSNs arrive on the scene.

ENDS

Doves & Hawks & Skewed Reality

The uncomfortable truth about doves and hawks, a truth that doves generally fail to appreciate, is that doves cannot exist without hawks. Hawks cherish and fight for the freedoms and principles that doves enjoy. It is possible to be hawkish and philosophical and to aspire to the principles of peace, love, respect for diversity and co-existence with peaceful but different ideologies.

Doves and hawks employ different methods but seek the same outcome. They occupy the same societal structures and enjoy the same freedoms. Doves tend to believe that these freedoms exist by divine right and do not require defending.

Doves also tend to believe that hawks are mindlessly jingoistic. To counter this is well served by quoting several from Thucydides as follows:

“The society that separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting by fools.”

“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

“The secret to happiness is freedom… And the secret to freedom is courage.”

“Be convinced that to be happy means to be free and that to be free means to be brave. Therefore do not take lightly the perils of war.”

“Ignorance is bold and knowledge reserved.”

“History is Philosophy teaching by examples”

One can be hawkish and cherish the values and freedoms that doves enjoy. Generally speaking one cannot be a dove and respect hawks. This thesis is well served by an exchange in the comments sections on a Facebook post that I made recently which re-posted this tweet:

The reaction to this post from a old acquaintance (a dove) of mine was:

“Left to me, I’d rather see my sons or daughters arrive home safely from vacation, rather than in this sad manner. There is no glory to be had in such a flight of fancy. There is no joy in such a homecoming. There is only grief behind this picture. And yet, we rush to paint it as some sacred scene, to be hung on walls, in houses where life and purpose, has lost its true centre. Death, decay, and destruction, is ALL the military mind will ever bring to the table. Time for heads to come out of dark holes. Time for The Light to shine!”

The response to this comment from a friend and colleague of mine (a hawk) was:

“When the job is done for right or wrong this is what happens when they are brought home. It will always be that doves disagree with hawks but the doves can disagree with the hawks in our society because the hawks have to fight to preserve the doves right to disagree.

The doves forget this but the doves always have a selective opinion. I do not disagree with you that military minds are narrow. I do disagree with you that the ultimate sacrifice that some people make is not worthy of a post like this on Memorial Day.

It is easy to cry for freedom and liberty and justice and love and peace but there are very significant groups in this world who want the exact opposite for you and the society that you live in and the military, good and bad, are sent to deal with them on your behalf.

This is the way the world works so that you can speculate about love and peace in your country without fear. I want all of the things that you want. The difference is that I am willing to kill those people who oppose them.

You may find this discomforting but that is the way it is and that is the way it always will be and when it stops so will your freedom.”

Which one are you?

ENDS

When The Privacy Advocate Becomes An Apologist For The Opponent

It does not matter to me whether the “The Guardian Falsely Slammed WhatsApp For a “Security Backdoor” – It’s Actually Not” according to a Peter Stone thread on Peerlyst.

Bruce Schneier also weighed into the debate saying “This is not a backdoor. This really isn’t even a flaw. It’s a design decision that put usability ahead of security in this particular instance.”

Tellingly though he went to say that “How serious this is depends on your threat model. If you are worried about the US government — or any other government that can pressure Facebook — snooping on your messages, then this is a small vulnerability. If not, then it’s nothing to worry about.”

The main stream media sponsored spat had @Moxie from @WhisperSystems siding with @WhatsApp and @Facebook in a face off against @Guardian and their contributor @tobiasboelter (Security and Crypto at UC Berkeley) in a “man in the middle” versus “design” versus “vulnerability” versus “backdoor” versus “privacy” versus “convenience” versus “user experience” tit for tat.

If you take Schneier’s statement about who should worry about the WhatsApp “design choice” in handling “blocking” / “non-blocking” then irony drips from Moxie’s apologist defence of the WhatsApp handling of key changes when one notes that in a Jun 12, 2013 blog post he wrote “We Should All Have Something To Hide” .

Moxie at Open Whisper Systems, the designers of the well respected SIGNAL encrypted voice and messaging app, responded to the “backdoor” allegations in WhatsApp’s implementation of the SIGNAL protocol in a blog post on their site.

It was in response to Mr. Boelter’s piece in the Guardian newspaper “WhatsApp vulnerability explained: by the man who discovered it” which they say was in response to the Facebook denial that the vulnerability was a deliberate loophole.

The debate is complicated for people not involved in the security industry there are pro’s and con’s in the arguments that both sides make. Some of it is pure semantics, some of it represents shades of opinion other aspects are “interpretations”.

It all essentially stems from WhatsApp approach to handling encryption key changes in certain scenarios and their attitude to “non-blocking”. SIGNAL handles all key changes with “blocking” but WhatsApp chooses to go with “non-blocking”. There is therefore a fundamental difference between the WhatsApp app’s implementation of the Open Whisper System protocol and the implementation that underpins the SIGNAL app.

The integrity of the SIGNAL app is not being questioned. The Wall Street Journal stated about the latter in a Jan. 24, 2017 11:16 a.m. ET article that “Messaging App Has Bipartisan Support Amid Hacking Concerns” describing SIGNAL “as a smartphone app that allows users to send encrypted messages, is gaining popularity in the political world amid rising fears about hacking and surveillance in the wake of a tumultuous election year.”

My worry is not about WhatsApp’s Open Whisper Systems implementation because frankly I would not use it. I would not use it because I do not trust Facebook (the owners of WhatsApp or Zuckerberg). Zuckerberg because he tried to cover up the Facebook facilitation of the NSA PRISM program before the Snowden revelations embarrassed him into trying to apply a retrofit fix to his betrayal of Facebook users. And WhatsApp because frankly they are sharing their users data with Facebook despite denials.

When the advocates become apologists for the mainstream then they longer deserve to be called advocates in the purest sense of the word. And Moxie does consider himself “pure”. He is not.

In July 2016 Wired wrote “Meet Moxie Marlinspike, the Anarchist Bringing Encryption to All of Us” but being an “anarchist” and an ally of Zuckerberg are incompatible ideological stances.

ENDS

NSA, GCHQ, The Five Eyes Handing Ireland Cyber-Security Opportunity

It is perfectly achievable to maintain national security and manage the security risks posed domestically by extremists without instituting mass-surveillance programs of ones own citizens and corporate entities.

While this would seem like common sense, the continuing activities of authorities in the United States of America and the United Kingdom would suggest otherwise. But the French have also dipped a toe (or rather an entire leg) in these waters when after the Paris attacks they expanded the 1955 State of Emergency law and legislated for a French mass-surveillance program.

The implications of the Snowden revelations were slow to filter through to ordinary people not working in the security domain. The NSA, the PRISM program and the Patriot Act had produced a culture of widespread surveillance of ordinary citizens’ activities with the assistance of many household names and brands.

Shocking news. Huge outcry. Much apologising and “contextualising” and “perspective” setting occurred. “Expediency” and “imminent threat” were debated and on it went.

The collaborators in the form of telco’s, social networks, media organisations and household brands went into overdrive to backpedal from the disastrous PR outcome their involvement created.

At the same time – encryption and privacy software companies made wild claims about the strength of their products and hundreds of new entrants emerged to fill the public demand for Private Messaging, Email Encryption, Secure Voice, VPN’s, Proxy Spoofers and other privacy tools – a space previously reserved for paranoid board room members, activists and some well informed underworld organisations.

It was supposed to have been a watershed  – the worst excesses of intelligence agencies exposed and now oversight, accountability and proportionate measures would rule the day.

Not so.

The Investigatory Powers Bill

The Investigatory Powers bill will become law in the United Kingdom sometime toward the end of 2016. Inside this legal maze of mass surveillance facilitators the UK alphabet agencies can now:

  • Hack any device, any network or any service;
  • Perform these hacks without restriction and against any target;
  • Store the resulting information indefinitely;
  • Maintain databases of private and confidential information on any citizen of the United Kingdom or person in the United Kingdom;
  • Targets do not have to be “persons of interest” nor do they have to be of any interest whatsoever – at this time;
  • It is an omnipresent power to simply gather information on everyone, at anytime, from anywhere – without any reason and store it – “just in case”;
  • In the commercial context the law allows the state to pressure any company to perform decryption on any data that they store – on request – without reason or right to appeal;
  • This in so many words means that un-compromised commercially available encryption products will no longer exist in the United Kingdom after the Bill becomes Law and no company that is based in the United Kingdom  can make that claim to its users and no company that stores its data in the United Kingdom can assure it’s users that it is safe from hacking or more likely simply being handed over to whatever department of the government of the United Kingdom asks for it;
  • It also requires communications service providers to maintain an ongoing log of all digital services their users connect to for a full year.

It has been quite rightly criticised widely and has already been named the most extreme law ever passed in a democracy — because it cements the legality of mass surveillance.

The English Speaking World Is Giving Ireland the Chance for Privacy Leadership 

This blog has already discussed the The “Five Eyes” (FVEY‍) intel‍ alliance many times. The organisation unifies elements of the national alphabet agencies of the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and their intel gathering infrastructures.

The AA’s in each member country and the terms of their information exchange mandate is encapsulated in the multilateral‍ agreement called the “UKUSA Agreement”.

This alliance and it’s mass-surveillance capabilities leading to large scale undermining of personal freedoms and civil liberty has really only come into its own with the advent of social networks, big data, the cloud and AI.

Brexit, Trump, US Corporation Tax & Mass Surveillance 

Brexit presents challenges for Ireland but it also presents opportunities. This is one of them.

Trump will shortly be in the White House and he has pledged to end the Irish FDI arrangement of convenience with US corporations. His attitude to surveillance is well known and not categorised by its message of restraint.

Brexit, Trump, The Five Eyes, PRISM, the NSA, GCHQ and now the Investigatory Powers Bill are a frontal assault of epic proportions on the right to privacy of citizens in democracies.

A sort of perfect storm of oppression and suppression tools just standing there waiting – in the wings – for a time when someone will come along and use them for the polar opposite purpose of what they were allegedly created for.

Out of Adversity, Opportunity

The opportunity created by this adversity is not to convince Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Paypal, eBay or the host of other US corporations in Ireland who are either facilitators of the surveillance culture or, like Twitter, engaged in widespread in-house censorship.

But if for once the Irish government showed some spine then the opportunity exists to create an entirely new sector catering to the privacy needs of freedom loving citizens and organisations who dwell in jurisdictions governed by these Stasi like surveillance laws.

And the market size? Well, it’s somewhere around seven billion people and rising.

The attitude of these politicians (Trump, May, Valls & Co.) and their intelligence organisations and the new “laws” – in the form of the revised Patriot Act and the Investigatory Powers Bill – means that’s the vast majority of the worlds English speaking population now live under governments who can – legally – invade their privacy at will – whether at home, at work or at leisure – store the information and use it for any purpose, at any time, at any point in the future – for any reason.

But Ireland has a long way to go to create credibility – the view that Ireland is a Privacy Advocate for the world whose lives are described on social media sites whose data is located in the Irish jurisdiction is a total myth.

I dearly hope that for once Ireland can take the lead – despite its size and influence – and act even if out of self-interest as a stopgap for the complete erosion of civil liberty and privacy in the Western World.

 

END