Category Archives: Big Surveillance

Love False Positives – The Day The Bank Said I Bought A Heavy Machine Gun Online

On the 15th November 2013 I made a wire transfer using Permanent TSB Open24. Open24 is an online banking service. For those of you who do not know, Permanent TSB is a retail bank that operates in the Republic of Ireland.

Worthy of note is that retail banking in the Republic is characterised by spectacular systems malfunctionsoutages, IT meltdowns and downright thievery.

But that’s ok because the government of Ireland loves banks and they can really do or not do (as is often the case) what they like – without fear of sanction. Oh, and when they lose their shirts gambling with their customers money then the Irish tax payer gets to pay for it. But I digress.

When Kids Try To Be Adults

I first became aware of my international arms purchasing activities when I received a phone call on my cell phone from a private number. I answered and was greeted by a what sounded like a teenage girl who informed me that an intermediary bank, used by Permanent TSB for payments to South East Asia, had sent an email to the bank requesting information about an international payment that I had made a few days previously.

Before describing the contents of the email, the clearly worried banker (worried because she was talking to an international arms dealer who buys his weapons over the open internet (who needs the Dark Web)), stated that I had bought a heavy machine gun and that I had asked that it be mailed to the address of one of our corporate apartments in Dublin, Ireland. As you do.

The intermediary bank was CitiBank in Frankfurt she informed me. They had contacted the Treasury Department and they in turn were dealing directly with the beneficiary bank in Singapore who were the first to flag the transaction.

The email read:

REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED REDACTED 

The beneficiary Bank sent the below SWIFT message to our treasury department via CitiBank:

WE HAVE BEEN INFORMED THAT THE BENEFICIARY BANK IS UNABLE TO APPLY THIS PAYMENT AND STATES:

  1. PLEASE CONTACT REMITTER TO OBTAIN BELOW.
    1. WHAT DOES TMG REFER TO PER F70?
    2. WHAT DOES IT STAND FOR?
    3. WHAT IS ITS FULL FORM?
    4. IF IT REFERS TO AN ORGANIZATION, PLS OBTAIN THE FOLLOWING:
      1. FULL NAME.
      2. FULL PHYSICAL ADDRESS AND COUNTRY OF LOCATION.

I trust the above is in order.

Kind Regards,

REDACTED REDACTED

She informed me that the Bank could not facilitate international arms purchases and that law enforcement had been informed including the local police station to the bank branch from which my transaction emanated, the Organised Crime Unit, and of course Security & Intelligence. The latter is the central point of contact for An Garda Síochána with all external agencies – both law enforcement and security/intelligence – with regard to international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

The Very Boring Reality

The transfer that caused this international “counter-terrorism / counter organised crime” flurry of activity between one local bank, two international banks and law enforcement in three countries was made by me to an organisation called SERVCORP.

SERVCORP is a company in SINGAPORE that provide a telephone answering service for my company TMG Corporate Services. The actual mandate for the transfer had been set up months previously by Permanent TSB themselves at the request of TMG Corporate Services Accounts Department. The same payment had been made on several previous occasions.

The transfer they said was for the purchase of an automatic weapon namely a BROWNING M2 Machine Gun TMG F70.

And how had they come to this conclusion? Well, simply because the reference on the payment was TMGF70. The reference was TMGF70 because that was the reference used by SERVCORP on the invoice that they had issued for that months services.

“TMG” being an acronym for The Mediator Group and F70 some internal reference for SERVCORP.

The Browning M2

The Browning M2 is a chain-fed, air-cooled heavy machine gun (TMG) in caliber 12.70 x 99 mm NATO , produced by the American manufacturer Browning at the end of World War II. The rifle has a maximum range of 7,500 meters and an effective range of 1,800 meters and can use different types of ammunition: full sharp, armor, armor fire and tracer.

Here I am proudly modelling a “Ma Deuce” I managed to buy in the duty free shop at Heathrow Airport.

Ma Deuce

Bargain Hunter

What was even more impressive about my purchase was that I acquired this impressive weapon for SGD$70 or EUR€45.25 at todays spot rate on XE.COM.

ENDS

 

The CIA Dark Triad – Windows, macOS & Linux

According to the WikiLeaks Vault 7 dump the CIA deploys malware that includes the capability to hack, remotely view and/or clone devices running the Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems.

This seems to suggest that the agency has no problem bypassing encryption, proxies, VPN and that Tor anonymity is a myth.

This does not mean that each of the point solutions offering a product under each of the above headings have been compromised. Rather it means that the OS level hack capability of the CIA – as seen on iOS and Android – means that they can gain full control of the device and render any point solution counter measures moot.

Therefore they subvert the platform which by extension means that anything that is running on the platform is subverted.

Tablet, laptop, smart-phone, AV device – it seems they are all fair game and in that case so is everything that you do on them.

You have been warned.

You are being watched.

ENDS

“Bypassing” Encryption is the same as “Breaking” Encryption

According to the Vault 7 WikiLeaks data the CIA made phone malware that can read your private chats without breaking encryption.

Anyone with half a clue always knew that the best way to subvert encryption was to bypass encryption as we at TMG Corporate Services have always done. From our blog post Am I Being Surveilled? on 29th March 2016:

Still – the point is made I think – visual intercepts are economically viable even for local LE – it’s just an ultra low light wifi enabled pin-hole snake camera in the right spot. One above the driver and passenger seat belt brackets in a private vehicle is a good location (easy access to and plenty of space behind the plastic covering the B pillar to store the bits).

Five uninterrupted minutes and both are installed. Just wait for the target to take a Sunday drive and game on. Most people rest the handset on their lap while typing stationary in traffic or better still upright and in front or on top of the wheel when driving – using one hand – which gives a nice unobstructed keystroke by keystroke view of their typing activities.

Most successful hacks are low tech

Today I have seen a bunch of publications and experts trying to assure people that this is nothing to worry about. The purity of encryption is in tact. It is an academic point.

If you are in the business of handling sensitive data then don’t use your cell phone to transmit it. It’s that simple.

* In the hours since the documents were made available by WikiLeaks, a misconception was developed, making people believe the CIA “cracked” the encryption used by popular secure messaging software including Signal and WhatsApp.

WikiLeaks asserted that: “These techniques permit the CIA to bypass the encryption of WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Wiebo, Confide and Cloakman by hacking the “smart” phones that they run on and collecting audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

This statement by WikiLeaks made most people think that the encryption used by end-to-end encrypted messaging clients such as Signal and WhatsApp has been broken. No, it hasn’t. Instead, the CIA has tools to gain access to entire phones, which would of course “bypass” encrypted messaging apps because it fails all other security systems virtually on the phone, granting total remote access to the agency.

The WikiLeaks documents do not show any attack particular against Signal or WhatsApp, but rather the agency hijacks the entire phone and listens in before the applications encrypt and transmit information.

It’s like you are sitting in a train next to the target and reading his 2-way text conversation on his phone or laptop while he’s still typing, this doesn’t mean that the security of the app the target is using has any issue.

In that case, it also doesn’t matter if the messages were encrypted in transit if you are already watching everything that happens on the device before any security measure comes into play.

But this also doesn’t mean that this makes the issue lighter, as noted by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, “This incorrectly implies CIA hacked these apps/encryption. But the docs show iOS/Android are what got hacked—a much bigger problem.”

* From The Hacker News

ENDS

“All uR devICE r belong 2 US”, Vault 7, Weeping Angel, the CIA & Your Samsung TV

CIA malware and hacking tools are built by EDG (Engineering Development Group), a software development group within CCI (Center for Cyber Intelligence), a department belonging to the CIA’s DDI (Directorate for Digital Innovation). The DDI is one of the five major directorates of the CIA.

The attack against Samsung smart TVs was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s MI5/BTSS.

The EDG is responsible for the development, testing and operational support of all backdoors, exploits, malicious payloads, trojans, viruses and any other kind of malware used by the CIA in its covert operations world-wide.

The increasing sophistication of surveillance techniques has drawn comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984, but “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones, is it’s most emblematic realization.

After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on.

In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

ENDS

Extracted entirely from Vault 7: CIA Hacking Tools Revealed

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

Mass Surveillance & The Oxford Comma Analogy

Acknowledgments, Contributions & References: This blog post was written in collaboration with and using contributions from Mr. Dean Webb (find Dean’s profile on PeerLyst). The clever and insightful bits are all Dean, the space fillers and punctuation are mine – except the “Oxford Comma” analogy, which even though it is lifted from @Grammarly on Twitter, is mine – and I like it (a lot). Enjoy.

Who Do We Like, Who Do We Dislike (Today)

Wearable tech is on its way, for surveillance during times when one is away from the vidscreen. But we need this stuff in order to protect against Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia. We will always be at war with Eurasia until 20 January, at noon. Then we will always have been at war with Eastasia. And then we will need all this stuff to protect against Eastasia.

On a more serious note, anonymity has been dead for quite some time. As an example, about 10 years ago Dean Webb was running a web forum for students involved in an academic competition.

He and other teachers had volunteered to be admins for the board. They had a student that began to harass others on the board and post some highly inappropriate material. They banned his account, and he would connect again with another account.

So, Dean took down the IP addresses he’d used for his accounts and did a quick lookup on their ownership. They were at a certain university, so he contacted that university with the information and the times of access and they were able to determine which student was involved.

He was told to stop posting, or face discipline at the university. That got him to stop.

Simple Methods, Complex Implications

The point is, that IP address and timestamp for most people is going to be what gets them in the end. They don’t know what a VPN is from a hole in the ground, let alone what a TOR node is.

At best, most of them will use a browser in anonymous / incognito mode, without realising that cookies are still retained and updated, credit card transactions remain on the record, and ISPs will still retain IP address information with timestamps.

It could be argued that a Layer 2 hijacking of someone else’s line is the way to go anonymously, but that involves a physical alteration of someone’s gear, and that means physical evidence, which is very difficult to erase completely.

Even if anonymity is not completely dead (mostly dead, perhaps?), it is certainly outside the reach of most people because they lack general IT knowledge about the basics of the Internet.

I (Graham) was met with the following comment when I posted a tweet some time before Xmas 2016 about Identity Theft:

“despite the hysteria the theft of most peoples personal information is / will be inconsequential”

The use of the word “inconsequential” by the commenter on my post reminded me of the hilarious Doctor Evil therapy session monologue in the Austin Powers movie when Doctor Evil stated, when asked about his life, that “the details of my life are quite inconsequential”. But 60 seconds of monologue later it was quite clear that they were far from “inconsequential” – it is a matter of perspective as to what is and what is not. That is the problem. And that is the potential worry.

Threat Awareness & Counter Measures

The vast majority of people and their browsing habits are innocuous. The point though that the comment misses and which is the point that Dean makes in his comments about the average John Q. Citizen’s awareness of the threats and the countermeasures available is that the public in general has moved their private communications on to a platform where they do not understand the implications of the ability of externals to eavesdrop or to store and reference data at a future point.

There was a blog post I (Graham) made some time ago about the risk of “profiling” and of “false positives” and the threat that they posed especially with respect to miscarriages of justice. (See “The Sword of Islam” story below)

The point is not whether “the theft of most peoples personal information is / will be inconsequential” or the storage of most peoples browsing history or contacts with other parties is / will be inconsequential or not – the point is that it can be made to look very different to what was actually happening originally.

Like a misquoted partial comment in a newspaper article – actions taken out of context can look very different.

The Oxford Comma Analogy

Recently I posted a tweet about the Oxford comma and it does indirectly inform the point that I am trying to make here:

Excerpt begins from Grammarly

“Unless you’re writing for a particular publication or drafting an essay for school, whether or not you use the Oxford comma is generally up to you. However, omitting it can sometimes cause some strange misunderstandings.

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”

Without the Oxford comma, the sentence above could be interpreted as stating that you love your parents, and your parents are Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty. Here’s the same sentence with the Oxford comma:

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.”

Those who oppose the Oxford comma argue that rephrasing an already unclear sentence can solve the same problems that using the Oxford comma does. For example:

“I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.”

could be rewritten as:

“I love Lady Gaga, Humpty Dumpty and my parents.”

Excerpt Ends

The analogy serves to demonstrate one of the main concerns of mass surveillance and mass retention of user data. People are now being profiled and tracked and their behaviours stored and analysed and they do not know why or by whom or for what purpose – they barely understand how to use a browser.

In the wrong hands that potentially makes them cannon fodder. Accuse me of being alarmist and dramatic – fair enough – so did everyone four years ago when I wrote about mass immigration as a weapon, the rise of radical Islam and the dangers of the USA supporting a sectarian Shi’a government in Baghdad, the marginalisation of Sunnis and the Ba’ath party, the randomness of the Arab Spring, the threat of Libya turning into a terrorist haven and so on.

The point is people ignore these developments at their peril but you may as well be talking to a concrete block. You can make all the compelling philosophical points that you like to someone but if they do not have the capacity to understand them then you are wasting your time.

And most of our politicians fall into that category.

Mass Profiling, Mass Surveillance Will Be Inconsequential Until It Isn’t

Dean once met a man named Saifal Islam. He has a devil of a time getting on an airplane because a terror group has the same name – “Sword of Islam”.

He is constantly explaining that the man (him) isn’t the group (them) and that he’s had his name longer than they’ve had theirs. That, yes, the group (them) should be banned from getting on airplanes, but that, no, the man (him) should be allowed on the plane.

Hell of a false positive, and that’s not the only one. Mismatches on felon voting lists, warrants served to the wrong address for no-knock police invasions, people told that they can’t renew driver’s licenses because they’re dead, the list goes on.

Be happy in the knowledge though that your data is apparently “inconsequential” and this privacy debate and the growing intrusion on your personal life is all “hysterical” alarmism.

You can use that statement when you are in the dock defending your very own hysterical “false positive” – no charge.

The next post will be “KarmaWare & Thieves of Thoughts” again in collaboration with Mr. Dean Webb.

ENDS

Official Government Response to “Repeal the new Surveillance Laws (Investigatory Powers Act)” Petition

Dear Graham Penrose,

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Repeal the new Surveillance laws (Investigatory Powers Act)”.

Government responded:

The Investigatory Powers Act dramatically increases transparency around the use of investigatory powers. It protects both privacy and security and underwent unprecedented scrutiny before becoming law.

The Government is clear that, at a time of heightened security threat, it is essential our law enforcement, security and intelligence services have the powers they need to keep people safe.

The Investigatory Powers Act transforms the law relating to the use and oversight of Investigatory powers. It strengthens safeguards and introduces world-leading oversight arrangements.

The Act does three key things. First, it brings together powers already available to law enforcement and the security and intelligence agencies to obtain communications and data about communications. It makes these powers – and the safeguards that apply to them – clear and understandable.

Second, it radically overhauls the way these powers are authorised and overseen. It introduces a ‘double-lock’ for the most intrusive powers, including interception and all of the bulk capabilities, so warrants require the approval of a Judicial Commissioner. And it creates a powerful new Investigatory Powers Commissioner to oversee how these powers are used.

Third, it ensures powers are fit for the digital age. The Act makes a single new provision for the retention of internet connection records in order for law enforcement to identify the communications service to which a device has connected. This will restore capabilities that have been lost as a result of changes in the way people communicate.

Public scrutiny

The Bill was subject to unprecedented scrutiny prior to and during its passage.

The Bill responded to three independent reports: by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation; by the Royal United Services Institute’s Independent Surveillance Review Panel; and by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. All three of those authoritative independent reports agreed a new law was needed.

The Government responded to the recommendations of those reports in the form of a draft Bill, published in November 2015. That draft Bill was submitted for pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. The Intelligence and Security Committee and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee conducted parallel scrutiny. Between them, those Committees received over 1,500 pages of written submissions and heard oral evidence from the Government, industry, civil liberties groups and many others. The recommendations made by those Committees informed changes to the Bill and the publication of further supporting material.

A revised Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 1 March, and completed its passage on 16 November, meeting the timetable for legislation set by Parliament during the passage of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014. Over 1,700 amendments to the Bill were tabled and debated during this time.

The Government has adopted an open and consultative approach throughout the passage of this legislation, tabling or accepting a significant number of amendments in both Houses of Parliament in order to improve transparency and strengthen privacy protections. These included enhanced protections for trade unions and journalistic and legally privileged material, and the introduction of a threshold to ensure internet connection records cannot be used to investigate minor crimes.

Privacy and Oversight

The Government has placed privacy at the heart of the Investigatory Powers Act. The Act makes clear the extent to which investigatory powers may be used and the strict safeguards that apply in order to maintain privacy.

A new overarching ‘privacy clause’ was added to make absolutely clear that the protection of privacy is at the heart of this legislation. This privacy clause ensures that in each and every case a public authority must consider whether less intrusive means could be used, and must have regard to human rights and the particular sensitivity of certain information. The powers can only be exercised when it is necessary and proportionate to do so, and the Act includes tough sanctions – including the creation of new criminal offences – for those misusing the powers.
The safeguards in this Act reflect the UK’s international reputation for protecting human rights. The unprecedented transparency and the new safeguards – including the ‘double lock’ for the most sensitive powers – set an international benchmark for how the law can protect both privacy and security.

Home Office

Click this link to view the response online:

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/173199?reveal_response=yes

This petition has over 100,000 signatures. The Petitions Committee will consider it for a debate. They can also gather further evidence and press the government for action.

The Committee is made up of 11 MPs, from political parties in government and in opposition. It is entirely independent of the Government. Find out more about the Committee: https://petition.parliament.uk/help#petitions-committee

Thanks,
The Petitions Team
UK Government and Parliament