Cyberwars: FBIs Facial Recognition Database

facial_rec1This past summer, the FBI was compelled to release information about the operational facial recognition database they working on. As part of its Next Generation Identification (NGI) program, this database is part of the FBIs efforts to build a “bigger, faster and better” means of biometric identification. Earlier this month, the FBI announced that the system is now working at “full operational capability”, and many people are worried…

To break it down, the NGI database is made up of millions of stored mugshots and other photos, which are then used when analyzing footage taken by CCTV feeds or other cameras around the country. The full deployment of the program comes three months after James Comey, the bureau’s director, announced that the agency was “piloting the use of mug shots” alongside the bureau’s other databases, in order to catch wanted criminals.

FBI_NGI_Slide_WideDesigned to replace the bureau’s aging fingerprint database, the NGI is different in that it is designed to be multimodal. This means that it will link multiple forms of biometric data to biographical information such as name, address,  ID number, age and ethnicity. It’s currently focused on fingerprint and facial records, but it will also be capable of holding iris scans and palm prints, with the possibility of added voice recognition and gate analysis (i.e. how people walk).

As the FBI said in a statement on Monday, Sept. 15th, the NGI, combined with fingerprint database:

[W]ill provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities.

Naturally, the worries that this database will be another step towards “Big Brother” monitoring. However, what is equally (if not more) worrisome is the fact that the details of the program are only a matter of public record thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The lawsuit was issued in June of 2013, wherein the EFF compelled the FBI to produce records in accordance Freedom of Information Act to detail the program and its face-recognition components.

facial_recCiting the FBI documents, the EFF claims that the facial recognition technology is not very reliable and that the way the database returns results is fundamentally flawed, as well as pointing out that it will indiscriminately combine the details of both criminals and non-criminals. Based on their own interpretation, they claim it could fail 20 percent of the time, which could lead to innocent persons becoming the subject of police investigations.

Nevertheless, the bureau remains confident that the system will simplify and enhance law enforcement both locally and federally. As they said of the program when it was first announced back in 2011:

The NGI system has introduced enhanced automated fingerprint and latent search capabilities, mobile fingerprint identification, and electronic image storage, all while adding enhanced processing speed and automation for electronic exchange of fingerprints to more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies and other authorized criminal justice partners 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

fingerprint_databaseIn 2012, the NGI database already contained 13.6 million images (of seven to eight million individuals) and by mid-2013, it had 16 million images. We now know it aims to have 52 million facial records in its system by next year, and those will include some regular citizens. This is another source of concern for the EFF and civil liberties advocates, which is the estimated 4.3 million images taken for non-criminal purposes.

Whenever someone applies for a job that requires a background check, they are required to submit fingerprint records. These records are then entered into federal databases. Right now, the FBI’s fingerprint database contains around 70 million criminal profiles, and 34 million non-criminal records. With the NGI database now up and running, photographs can be submitted by employers and other sources along with fingerprints, which puts non-criminals on file.

FBI-facial-recognitionThe database, while maintained by the FBI, can be searched by law enforcement at all levels. According to Jennifer Lynch, the EFF attorney behind the lawsuit:

Your image would be searched every time there is a criminal investigation. The problem with that is the face recognition is still not 100 percent accurate.” This means that the system is liable to make mismatches with data. If a camera catches a criminal’s face and that is compared to images in the database, there’s no guarantee that it will pop up an accurate result. 

What’s more, when the database is searched it does not return a completely positive result; but instead provides the top hits, ranked by probability of match. So if your face just happens to be similar to a snapshot of a criminal caught in CCTV footage, you may become a suspect in that case. Combined with other forms of biometric readers and scanners, it is part of a general trend where privacy is shrinking and public spaces are increasingly permeated by digital surveillance.

internet-of-things-2This sort of data exchange and on-the-ground scanning will be made possible byand is one of the explicit aims ofFirstNet, the nationwide broadband network for law enforcement and first responders, colloquially referred to by some as the “internet of cops”. Much like all things pertaining the expansion of the internet into the “internet of things”, this sort of growth has the capacity to affect privacy and become invasive as well as connective.

As always, fears of an “Orwellian” situation can be allayed by reminding people that the best defense is public access to the information – to know what is taking place and how it works. While there are doubts as to the efficacy of the NGI database and the potential for harm, the fact that we know about its inner workings and limitations could serve as a legal defense wherever a potentially innocent person is targeted by it.

And of course, as the issue of domestic surveillance grows, there are also countless efforts being put forth by “Little Brother” to protect privacy and resist identification. The internet revolution cuts both ways, and ensures that everyone registered in the torrential data stream has a degree of input. Fight the power! Peace out!

Sources: motherboard.com, arstechnica.com, singularityhub.com

Cyberwars: Latest Snowden Leaks

FRANCE-US-EU-SURVEILLANCE-SNOWDENThe case against the NSA’s program of cyberwarfare and espionage has become somewhat like an onion. With every new revelation, the matter becomes more stinking and fetid. Certainly, the first release of classified NSA documents – which dealt with the US’s ongoing cyberwarfare against China and other nations – was damaging to the agency’s image. But it has been the subsequent publication of documents that deal with domestic surveillance that have been the most damning.

According to Snowden, he was motivated to leak this information because of the troubling case of hypocrisy inherent in the NSA programs. And in the lastest leak, Snowden has now confirmed that at least five Muslim-Americans – including prominent lawyers, a civil rights leader and academics – were the subject of years’ worth of surveillance by both the FBI and the National Security Agency.

under_surveillance_full_v2Among the targets were Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – the top Muslim-American civil rights organization in the United States – and Faisal Galil, a longtime Republican operative and former Bush Administration official who worked for the Department of Homeland Security and held a top-secret security clearance during the time he was under surveillance.

Also among the American targets was Asim Ghafoor, an attorney for the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation who who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases . He is also the man who famously discovered in 2004 that he and his clients were under surveillance after the Treasury Department mistakenly released to him a document listing calls he’d made to his clients.

wire_tappingOther targets include Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University and Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights. All of the targets appear to have been singled out because of their Muslim backgrounds and their activities either defending Muslim clients or on behalf of various causes.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to suspect of an American of being engaged in or abetting terrorism, espionage, or sabotage against the US.

FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone CallsThe authorizations must be regularly renewed by the court for the surveillance to remain in effect, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens. In none of these cases were the individuals singled out for surveillance because they were suspected of committing or planning a crime. And six years after the period the document covers, none of them has been charged with any crime related to the surveillance.

Greenwald says the revelations offer a more detailed look at who the government is targeting. Although there are some Americans on the list who have been accused of terrorism, the five highlighted in The Intercept piece have all led what appear to be law-abiding lives. As Greenwald explained:

This is the first time that there’s a human face on who the targets are of their most intrusive type of surveillance. [H]ere you really get to see who these people are who are the people worthy of their most invasive scrutiny. I think it’s important for people to judge—are these really terrorists or are these people who seem to be targeted for their political dissidence and their political activism?

 

faisal_gillAll of these five individuals identified in the article has gone on record to vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage. Outside of their ancestry, there appears to be no justification whatsoever for the surveillance. Faisal Gill, whose AOL and Yahoo! email accounts were monitored while he was a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, had this to say when interview by The Intercept:

I just don’t know why. I’ve done everything in my life to be patriotic. I served in the Navy, served in the government, was active in my community—I’ve done everything that a good citizen, in my opinion, should do.

Ghafoor was also of the opinion that profiling had everything to do with him being targeted for electronic surveillance. When told that no non-Muslim attorneys who defended terror suspects had been identified on the list, he replied:

I believe that they tapped me because my name is Asim Abdur Rahman Ghafoor, my parents are from India. I travelled to Saudi Arabia as a young man, and I do the pilgrimage. Yes, absolutely I believe that had something to do with it.

https://i0.wp.com/media.nj.com/ledgerupdates_impact/photo/2012/06/muslim-lawsuitjpg-88e364e9b8e195f4.jpgCivil liberties groups have expressed anger that the five appear to have been targeted largely for having Muslim backgrounds. One such group is the Muslim Advocates, which released the following statement shortly after the story was published:

This report confirms the worst fears of American Muslims: the federal government has targeted Americans, even those who have served their country in the military and government, simply because of their faith or religious heritage. Muslim Advocates calls on the President and Congress to take steps immediately to reform the NSA surveillance program to uphold basic privacy rights and civil liberties that the Constitution guarantees to every American, regardless of faith.

The new revelations confirm for the first time that the government targeted U.S. attorneys, sometimes without warrants. Crucially, the revelations also give targets of the domestic surveillance legal standing to sue. Snowden indicated to Greenwald last year that he included the target list in the cache of leaked documents because he wanted people who had been under such surveillance to have evidence to challenge the spying in court.

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in BerlinIn the past, journalists and attorneys have tried to challenge the constitutionality of the government’s surveillance activities in court. But since the defendants did not have proof that they in particular had been targeted, the courts were forced to rule that they did not have standing. The spreadsheet, however, provides evidence of targeted surveillance for those who have now been identified.

In short, this latest revelation has provided Americans, and not just those of Muslim descent, with the means to hold the NSA and the FBI accountable for the first time. Since the historic episode known as the “war on terror” began, revelations have led to challenges and promises for reform. But in all cases, the crucial issue of whether or not these programs would be allowed to continue has been carefully sidestepped.

cyber_security2Whether it was the failure of FISA reform to reign in domestic wiretapping and data mining, or the Obama administrations endorsement of “transparent” surveillance, it seems obvious clear that an administrative solution was not in the works. But opening the way for successive lawsuits for wrongful surveillance might just prove to be more effective.

What is certain, though, is that the battle between civil liberties and surveillance in the “Digital Age” is nowhere close to being resolved. As the daily volume of data sent around the world continues to grow – from terabytes to petabytes to exabytes – there will continually be a need for monitors to watch for sinister things. And as long as they are willing to push the boundaries in the name of security, there will continue to be challenges.

Sources: wired.com, firstlook.org

The Future is Here: Smart Guns

smart gun 2010 internet 0009Not long ago, designer Ernst Mauch unveiled a revolutionary new handgun that grew out of a desire to merge digital technology with firearm safety. Known as the “smart gun” – or Armatix iP1 – this pistol comes with a safety feature designed to ensure that only the guns owner may fire it. Basically, the gun comes with a watch (the iW1) that it is synchronized to, and the weapon will only fire if it is within ten inches of it. So unless you’re wearing the iW1, the weapon will not fire in your hands.

The weapon is in part the result of attempts to find intelligent solutions to gun safety and gun violence. And Mauch’s design is one of several proposed innovations to use digital/smart technology for just such a purpose. Back in January, the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation launched the first of four $1 million challenges aimed at inspiring the kinds of innovation that could help lead to safer guns – and a reduction in the number of tragic deaths and injuries that make the headlines nearly every day.

Armatix-Smart-SystemGiven the recent failures to reach a legislative solution to the ongoing problem of gun-violence, these efforts should come as no surprise. And Mauch, the lead designer of the iP1, claimed in a recent op-ed piece with the Washington Post that the number of gun enthusiasts will rise as the result of its enhanced safety. As a designer who’s patents include the USP family of pistols, the HK416 assault rifle, G36 assault rifle and XM25 grenade machine gun – he is a strong advocate of a market-based solution.

The gun has already sparked a great deal of controversy amongst gun advocates and the National Rifle Association. Apparently, they worry that legislation will be passed so that only smart guns can be sold in gun stores. This is largely in response to a 2002 New Jersey law that stipulated that once the technology was available, that smart guns be sold exclusively in the state. As a result, the NRA has been quite vocal about its opposition to smart guns, despite offers made to repeal the law in exchange for them easing their position.

gun-lock-inlineAs already noted, the iP1 is not the only smart technology being applied to firearms. Sentini, a Detroit-based startup founded by Omer Kiyani, is designing a biometric gun lock called Identilock. Attaching to a gun’s trigger, it unlocks only when the owner applies a fingerprint. As an engineer, a gun owner, a father, and the victim of gun violence (he was shot in the mouth at 16), he too is committed to using digital technology and biometrics to make firearms safer.

An engineer by training, Kiyani spent years working as a software developer building next-generation airbag systems. He worked on calibrating the systems to minimize the chance of injury in the event of an accident, and eventually, he realized he could apply the same basic concepts to guns. As he put it:

The idea of an airbag is so simple. You inflate it and can save a life. I made the connection. I have something in my house that’s very dangerous. There’s got to be a simple way to protect it.

biometric_gunlockInitially, Kiyani considered technology that would require installing electronic locking equipment into the guns themselves, similar to what the iP1 employs. But as an engineer, he understood the inherent complications of designing electronics that could withstand tremendous shock and high temperatures, not to mention the fact it would be incredibly difficult to convince gun manufacturers to work with him on the project.

As a result, he began to work on something that anyone could add to a gun. Ultimately, his creation is different in three ways: it’s optional, it’s detachable, and it’s quick. Unlike biometric gun safes and other locking mechanisms, the Identilock makes it as easy to access a firearm as it is to unlock an iPhone. He pitched hundreds of gun owners a variety of ideas over the course of his research, but it was the biometric lock they inevitably latched onto

gun-lock-inline1The Identilock is also designed using entirely off-the-shelf components that have been proven effective in other industries. The biometric sensor, for example, has been used in other security applications and is approved by the FBI. Cobbling the sensor together from existing technologies was both a cost-saving endeavor and a strategic way to prove the product’s effectiveness more quickly. Currently, the project is still in the prototype phase, but it may prove to be the breakout product that brings biometrics and safety together in recent years.

And last, but certainly not least, there is the biometric option that comes from PositiveID, the makers of the only FDA-approved implantable biochip – which is known as the Verichip. In the past, the company has marketed similar identity-confirming microchips for security and medical purposes. But this past April, the company announced a partnership with Belgium-based gun maker FN Manufacturing to produce smart weapons.

VERICHIPThe technology is being marketed to law enforcement agencies as a means of ensuring that police firearms can never be used by criminals or third parties. The tiny chip would be implanted in a police officer’s hand and would match up with a scanning device inside a handgun. If the officer and gun match, a digital signal unlocks the trigger so it can be fired. Verichip president Keith Bolton said the technology could also improve safety for the military and individual gun owners, and it could be available as early as next year.

Similar developments are under way at other gun manufacturers and research firms. The New Jersey Institute of Technology and Australian gun maker Metal Storm Ltd. are working on a prototype smart gun that would recognize its owner’s individual grip. Donald Sebastian, NJIT vice president for research and development and director of the project, claims that the technology could eventually have an even bigger impact on the illegal gun trade.eri

An employee of Armatix poses for photographers as he presents the ÒSmartGun Concept".Regardless of the solutions being proposed and the progress being made, opposition to these and other measures does not appear to be letting up easily. New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg recently announced that she would introduce a bill to reverse the 2002 New Jersey “smart gun” law if the National Rifle Association would agree not to stand in the way of smart gun technology. The NRA, however, has not relented in its stance.

In addition, biochips and RFID implants have a way of making people nervous. Whenever and wherever they are proposed, accusations of “branding” and “Big Brother” monitoring quickly follow. And above all, any and all attempts to introduce gun safety are met with cries of opposition by those who claim it infringes on citizen’s 2nd Amendment rights. But given the ongoing problem of gun violence, school shootings, and the amount of violence perpetrated with stolen weapon, it is clear that something needs to change.

guns1In 2011 in the United States, roughly 3.6 people per 100,000 were killed with a firearm – which amounts to 32,163 people. In addition, of the 15,953 homicides committed that year, 11,101 were committed using a gun; almost 70% of the total. And not surprisingly, of those 11,101 gun-related homicides, more than half (An6,371) were committed using a handgun. And though exact figures are not exactly available, a general estimates indicates that some 90% percent of murders are committed with stolen guns.

As a result, it is likely just a matter of time before citizens see the value in biometric and smart gun technology. Anything that can ensure that only an owner can use a firearm will go a long way to curbing crime, accidents, and acts of senseless and unmitigated violence.

Sources: cnet.com, theverge.com, (2), wired.com, (2), msnbc.com, gunpolicy.com

Cyberwars: Massive Government Surveillance Uncovered!

wire_tappingOn Friday, Washington DC found itself embroiled in controversy as revelations were made about the extent to which US authorities have been spying on Americans in the last six years. This news came on the heels of the announcement that the federal government had been secretly cataloging all of Verizon’s phone records. No sooner had the dust settled on that revelation that it became known that the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance programs was far greater than anyone had imagined.

According to updated information on the matter, it is now known that The National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI have been tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting everything from audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that would enable their analysts to track foreign targets.

prism3This information was revealed thanks to a secret document that was leaked to the Washington Post, which shows for the first time that under the Obama administration, the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing. Equally distressing is the names being named: U.S. Service Providers such as Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.

The document further indicates that all of this has been taking place since 2007, when news disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced then-president George W. Bush to look for new authority to justify his program warrantless domestic surveillance. It’s continuance and expansion under Obama has created a great deal of understandable intrigue, and not only because of promises made that “illegal wiretapping” would not take place under his watch.

prism1The joint FBI-NSA program responsible for mining all the data is known as PRISM, and it may very well be the first of its kind. While the NSA and FBI have a long history of monitoring suspects via phone records and computer activity, and are both accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers, such a vast program has never before been possible. In the current information age, there is an immense wealth of information out there, and where better to access all of this than in Silicon Valley?

Not long after the news broke in Washington, London’s Guardian reported that GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA, also has been secretly gathering intelligence from the same internet companies through an operation set up by the NSA. According to the same leaked information, PRISM appears to allow the GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required in Britain to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside of the country.

prism2But perhaps worst of all is the fact that this process is entirely above board, at least for the companies involved. Back in 2007, Congress passed the Protect America Act, and then in 2008 followed it up with the FISA Amendments Act, both of which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection against prosecution. And late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

An anticipated, a bi-partisan amalgam of Senators came out to defend the initial reports of phone record monitoring shortly after it was announced. In a rare display of solidarity that cut across party lines, Democrats and Republicans from both the Senate and House came forward to say that the program was justified, only spied on terrorists, and that law-abiding citizens need not worry.

National Security Agency - aerial view
National Security Agency – aerial view

Once again, the argument “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear” finds itself employed by people who do not want to voice criticisms about a government spying program. Echoes of the Bush administration and McCarthy era all over again. Needless to say, all of this has many people worried, not the least of which are people opposed to government intrusion and the protection of privacy for the past decade.

Ever since it became possible to “mine data”  from numerous online digital sources, there has been fear that corporations or governments might try to ascertain the habits and comings and goings of regular people in order to effectively monitor them. For some time now, this sort of monitoring has been somewhat benign, in the form of anticipating their spending habits and using targeted advertising. But always, the fear that something more sinister and totalitarian might emerge.

government-surveillanceAnd with the “War on Terror”, the Patriot Act, domestic warrantless wiretapping, the legitimization of torture, and a slew of other crimes the Bush administration was indicted in, people all over the world have become convinced that “Big Brother” government is just around the corner, if indeed it is not already here.

The fact that such processes have continued and even expanded under Obama, a man who originally pledged not to engage in such behavior, has made a bad situation worse. In many ways, it demonstrates that fears that he too would succumb to internal pressure were justified. Much as he was won over by the Pentagon and CIA to continue the war in Afghanistan and UAV programs, it seems that the constellation of FBI and NSA specialists advising him on domestic surveillance has managed to sway him here as well.

Stealth-Wear1One can only hope that this revelation causes the federal government and the Obama administration to reconsider their stances. After all, these are the same people who were convinced to stand down on the use of UAVs in oversees operations and to take measures that would ensure transparency in the future. We can also hope that the NSA and FBI will be required to once again have to rely on the court system and demonstrate “just cause” before initiating any domestic surveillance in the future.

Otherwise, we might all need to consider getting our hands on some stealth wear and personal cameras, to shield ourselves and create an environment of “sousveillance” so we can spy on everything the government does. Might not hurt to start monitoring the comings and goings of every telecommunications and Silicon Valley CEO while were at it! For as the saying goes, “who watches the watchers?” I’ll give you a hint: we do!

Also, be sure to check out the gallery of artist Adam Harvey, the man who pioneered “stealth wear” as a protest against the use of drones and domestic surveillance. To learn more about sousveillance, the concept of a society monitored by common people, check out Steve Mann’s (inventor of the EyeTap) blog.

Sources: washingtonpost.com, guardian.co.uk, policymic.com, ahprojects.com, eyetap.blogspot.ca

 

The Boston Manhunt: A Victory for Technology?

boston-marathon-bombing-suspects-2013It was announced yesterday that after an intense manhunt, a prolonged shootout, and the death of an MIT police officer, that the second and final suspect in the Boston bombing was finally captured. Identified as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, the eldest brother was killed during the shoot out in Watertown and the latter who was captured while in hiding under an overtunred boat in a nearby residence.

Naturally, there are still many questions about the two brothers when it comes to their motives and whether or not they had any help in the commission of this crime. But in the meantime, one can’t help but acknowledge the swiftness with which the suspects were identified and the case resolved. Considering the fact that the police had no leads and no one had come forward to take credit, the fact that the men responsible were captured and killed within four days is nothing short of astounding.

boston-marathon-bombing2So compared to past instances of terrorist acts – where the incident took place in a mass gathering and the perpetrators were mixed in with the crowd – what was different here? For one, the sheer amount of information that was provided by people who were on the scene. From torrents of photography to cell-tower information to locals’ memories, the police, FBI, and other investigators opened their investigation to spectator surveillance in a way like never before.

And in return, they received a mountain of data, which surprisingly proved quite helpful. Between the images submitted to the police from those who took pictures and video with their smartphones, PDAs and video cameras, and tips provided via Twitter and other social media, the police were quickly able to determine who the likely suspects were and how the bombing took place. After making their findings public, the suspects then fled, and committed the monumentally stupid mistake of drawing attention to themselves.

boston_bombing_manhuntAll this represented a modern twist on the age-old policy where law enforcement agencies consider the public’s eyes and ears as the crucial investigative asset. Just like with all cases, authorities opened their inquiry to account for what people saw and heard. The only real difference was that this time around, the Internet rapidly compressed the time it took for tips to arrive and get analyzed.

Mike Rolince, a retired FBI special agent who set up Boston’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force, recalls a time in the 90’s when the FBI was much more reticent about accepting information from the public and local police:

If law enforcement didn’t share any information — [as with bombers] Terry Nichols, Ted Kaczynski — if your intel is shared with no one, that is the consummate investigative challenge.

However, he acknowledges that things have since changed:

The great advantage here is the number of cameras out there. Without the cameras, I don’t know where we are.

boston-marathon-bombing-watertownBut of course, those cameras went way beyond the surveillance cameras that were in place downtown. They included every mobile camera in the hands of every person who happened to bring one. All of the information thus provided allowed the FBI and local police to turn a crime scene trampled by thousands and no leads into a solid case against two suspects and an active manhunt that led to their death and capture in four days time.

This was a victory for not only modern technology but the very democratic powers it is making possible. Much like crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, DIY research and biohacking, public surveillance is something which could very well turn the tables on terrorism. It could also go a long way to undermining fears about a surveillance-based Big Brother state, ushering in instead an era of public-government cooperation that provides for the common good.

Might sound a bit utopian, but it is a first and represents a big victory for all those who were fighting on the side of good in the midst of a heinous act of evil.

Source: Wired.com

Hacker Wars: The Invasion Continues!

cyber-war-1024x843State-sponsored hacking has been a major concern lately. From Russia’s “Red October” virus, which spied on embassies and diplomats in multiple countries, to China’s ongoing intrusion into government and corporate databases in the US, it seems as though private hackers are no longer the only ones we need to worry about.

The latest incident in this invasion of privacy and airing of personal information comes again from Russia, where a mysterious website has been posting personal information about some rather high-profile American figures. These include First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden, Jay-Z, Britney Spears, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sarah Palin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the head of the FBI.

michelle-obama_fullIn addition to taunting messages and unflattering pictures, the site includes Social Security numbers, credit reports, addresses and phone numbers. No reasons are listed on the site as to why these particular people were selected, but it seems clear at this point that they were chosen due to their high-profile nature and/or positions of importance within the US government. As of last Tuesday, both the FBI and Secret Service announced that they were investigating the website.

Though it is not definitively clear where the hackers are operating from, all indications point to Russia. The first clue came when it was revealed that site bore the internet suffix originally assigned to the Soviet Union (.su), a practice which is not uncommon with Russian hackers these days. In addition, it is also connected to a Twitter account, which carried an an anti-police message posted in Russian.

hackers_securityAt the moment, neither the White House or the Secret Service is offering assessments or comments on the matter. But some thoughts have been offered by Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith, who spoke on behalf of Chief Charlie Beck, who’s information was also posted. According to Beck, this is not the first time that top police officials have had their private information posted online:

“People get mad at us, go on the Internet and try to find information about us, and post it all on one site. The best word I can use to describe it is creepy. It’s a creepy thing to do.”

Frank Preciado, assistant officer in charge of the LAPDs online division, added that the information on the police chief was likely taken from what is supposed to be a secure database of city employees. And it might just offer some insight into this latest, sweeping act of inforpiracy. When all is said and done, it appears that this may simply be a case of a small but qualified group of misfits engaging in public mischief.

internetHowever, of greater concern is the fact that with this latest act of high-profile hacking, a trend that citizens were forewarned might be coming true. In December of 2012, internet security company McAfee warned of an impending attack by Russian hackers against American banks. Dubbed “Project Blitzkrieg”, the threat of the attack surfaced on a Russian hacking forum in the previous September, and McAfee was quick to advised that it was a credible one.

As of December 2012, Russian hackers had effectively infected 500 databases in the US with the promise of more to come. The cybercriminal known as vorVzakone – whose name means ‘thief in law’ – was identified as the head of the operation, whose plans called for the release of a Trojan horse virus that would allow him and his accomplices to seize control of banks’ computers to steal information and money.

cold_war

Clearly, all of these incidents amount to a major public concern. But of greater concern to me is the fact the lines being drawn in this new era of cyber-warfare are eerily familiar. Not long ago, China and Russia were locked in an ongoing feud with the US and its allies, a war fueled by ideology but based on the cultivation of technology and espionage networks.

Granted, only China’s case of cyberwarfare against the US appears to be government-backed. But between the “Red October” virus,  “Project Blitzkrieg”, and the fact that Russian hackers are in the habit of using a Soviet-era suffix to designate their activities, it seems that Russia is fertile ground for a renewed standoff with the West as well. And given that the targets have been western governments and financial institutions, would it be so farfetched to assume the government might be marginally involved?

The means may have changed, but the overall purpose remains the same. Infiltrate, destabilize, and steal information from the enemy. Are we looking at a renewed Cold War, or just the last gasps of an ideological confrontation that was supposed to have died years ago? Only time will tell…

Sources: cbc.ca, dailymail.co.uk