We have seen a lot of discussion this past week about the role of Amazon Rekognition in facial recognition, surveillance, and civil liberties, and we wanted to share some thoughts.
Amazon Rekognition is a service we announced in 2016. It makes use of new technologies – such as deep learning – and puts them in the hands of developers in an easy-to-use, low-cost way. Since then, we have seen customers use the image and video analysis capabilities of Amazon Rekognition in ways that materially benefit both society (e.g. preventing human trafficking, inhibiting child exploitation, reuniting missing children with their families, and building educational apps for children), and organizations (enhancing security through multi-factor authentication, finding images more easily, or preventing package theft). Amazon Web Services (AWS) is not the only provider of services like these, and we remain excited about how image and video analysis can be a driver for good in the world, including in the public sector and law enforcement.
There have always been and will always be risks with new technology capabilities. Each organization choosing to employ technology must act responsibly or risk legal penalties and public condemnation. AWS takes its responsibilities seriously. But we believe it is the wrong approach to impose a ban on promising new technologies because they might be used by bad actors for nefarious purposes in the future. The world would be a very different place if we had restricted people from buying computers because it was possible to use that computer to do harm. The same can be said of thousands of technologies upon which we all rely each day. Through responsible use, the benefits have far outweighed the risks.
Customers are off to a great start with Amazon Rekognition; the evidence of the positive impact this new technology can provide is strong (and growing by the week), and we’re excited to continue to support our customers in its responsible use.
-Dr. Matt Wood, general manager of artificial intelligence at AWS
The Intercept has a long article on Japan’s equivalent of the NSA: the Directorate for Signals Intelligence. Interesting, but nothing really surprising.
The directorate has a history that dates back to the 1950s; its role is to eavesdrop on communications. But its operations remain so highly classified that the Japanese government has disclosed little about its work even the location of its headquarters. Most Japanese officials, except for a select few of the prime minister’s inner circle, are kept in the dark about the directorate’s activities, which are regulated by a limited legal framework and not subject to any independent oversight.
Now, a new investigation by the Japanese broadcaster NHK — produced in collaboration with The Intercept — reveals for the first time details about the inner workings of Japan’s opaque spy community. Based on classified documents and interviews with current and former officials familiar with the agency’s intelligence work, the investigation shines light on a previously undisclosed internet surveillance program and a spy hub in the south of Japan that is used to monitor phone calls and emails passing across communications satellites.
The article includes some new documents from the Snowden archive.
Spencer Ackerman has this interesting story about a guy assigned to crack down on unauthorized White House leaks. It’s necessarily light on technical details, so I thought I’d write up some guesses, either as a guide for future reporters asking questions, or for people who want to better know the risks when leak information.
It should come as no surprise that your work email and phone are already monitored. They can get every email you’ve sent or received, even if you’ve deleted it. They can get every text message you’ve sent or received, the metadata of every phone call sent or received, and so forth.
To a lesser extent, this also applies to your well-known personal phone and email accounts. Law enforcement can get the metadata (which includes text messages) for these things without a warrant. In the above story, the person doing the investigation wasn’t law enforcement, but I’m not sure that’s a significant barrier if they can pass things onto the Secret Service or something.
The danger here isn’t that you used these things to leak, it’s that you’ve used these things to converse with the reporter before you made the decision to leak. That’s what happened in the Reality Winner case: she communicated with The Intercept before she allegedly leaked a printed document to them via postal mail. While it wasn’t conclusive enough to convict her, the innocent emails certainly put the investigators on her trail.
The path to leaking often starts this way: innocent actions before the decision to leak was made that will come back to haunt the person afterwards. That includes emails. That also includes Google searches. That includes websites you visit (like this one). I’m not sure how to solve this, except that if you’ve been in contact with The Intercept, and then you decide to leak, send it to anybody but The Intercept.
By the way, the other thing that caught Reality Winner is the records they had of her accessing files and printing them on a printer. Depending where you work, they may have a record of every file you’ve accessed, every intranet page you visited. Because of the way printers put secret dots on documents, investigators know precisely which printer and time the document leaked to The Intercept was printed.
Photographs suffer the same problem: your camera and phone tag the photographs with GPS coordinates and time the photograph was taken, as well as information about the camera. This accidentally exposed John McAfee’s hiding location when Vice took pictures of him a few years ago. Some people leak by taking pictures of the screen — use a camera without GPS for this (meaning, a really old camera you bought from a pawnshop).
These examples should impress upon you the dangers of not understanding technology. As soon as you do something to evade surveillance you know about, you may get caught by surveillance you don’t know about.
If you nonetheless want to continue forward, the next step may be to get a “burner phone”. You can get an adequate Android “prepaid” phone for cash at the local Walmart, electronics store, or phone store.
There’s some problems with such phones, though. They can often be tracked back to the store that sold them, and the store will have security cameras that record you making the purchase. License plate readers and GPS tracking on your existing phone may also place you at that Walmart.
I don’t know how to resolve these problems. Perhaps the best is grow a beard and on the last day of your vacation, color your hair, take a long bike/metro ride (without your existing phone) to a store many miles away and pick up a phone, then shave and change your color back again. I don’t know — there’s a good chance any lame attempt you or I might think of has already been experienced by law enforcement, so they are likely ahead of you. Maybe ask your local drug dealer where they get their burner phones, and if they can sell you one. Of course, that just means when they get caught for drug dealing, they can reduce their sentence by giving up the middle class person who bought a phone from them.
Lastly, they may age out old security videos, so simply waiting six months before using the phone might work. That means prepaying for an entire year.
Note that I’m not going to link to examples of cheap burner phones on this page. Web browsers will sometimes prefetch some information from links in a webpage, so simply including links in this page can condemn you as having interest in burner phones. You are already in enough trouble for having visited this web page.
Burner phones have GPS. Newer the technology, like the latest Android LTE phones, have pretty accurate GPS that the police can query (without a warrant). If you take the phone home and turn it on, they’ll then be able to trace back the phone to your home. Carrying the phone around with you has the same problem, with the phone’s location correlating with your existing phone (which presumably you also carry) or credit card receipts. Rumors are that Petraeus was partly brought down by tracking locations where he used his credit card, namely, matching the hotel he was in with Internet address information.
Older phones that support 3G or even 2G have poorer GPS capabilities. They’ll still located you to the nearest cell tower, but not as accurately to your exact location.
A better strategy than a burner phone would be a burner laptop computer used with WiFi. You can get a cheap one for $200 at Amazon.com. My favorite are the 11 inch ones with a full sized keyboard and Windows 10. Better yet, get an older laptop for cash from a pawn shop.
You can install chat apps on this like “Signal Desktop”, “Wire Desktop”, or “WhatsApp” that will allow you to securely communicate. Or use “Discord”, which isn’t really encrypted, but it’s popular among gamers so therefore less likely to stand out. You can sit in a bar with free WiFi and a USB headset and talk to reporters without having a phone. If the reporter you want to leak to doesn’t have those apps (either on their own laptop or phone) then you don’t want to talk to them.
Needless to say, don’t cross the streams. Don’t log onto your normal accounts like Facebook. If you create fake Facebook accounts, don’t follow the same things. Better yet, configure your browser to discard all information (especially “cookies”) every time you log off, so you can’t be tracked. Install ad blockers, or use the “Brave” web browser, to remove even more trackers. A common trick among hackers is to change the “theme” to a red background, as a constant subliminal reminder that you using your dangerous computer, and never to do anything that identifies the real you.
Put tape over the camera. I’m not sure it’s a really big danger, but put tape over the camera. If they infect you enough to get your picture, they’ve also infected you enough to record any audio on your computer. Remember that proper encryption is end-to-end (they can’t eavesdrop in transit), but if they hack the ends (your laptop, or the reporter’s) they can still record the audio.
Note that when your burner laptop is in “sleep” mode, it can still be talking to the local wifi. Before taking it home, make sure it’s off. Go into the settings and configure it so that when the lid is closed, the computer is turned completely off.
It goes without saying: don’t use that burner laptop from home. Luckily, free wifi is everyone, so the local cafe, bar, or library can be used.
The next step is to also use a VPN or Tor to mask your Internet address. If there’s an active investigation into the reporter, they’ll get the metadata, the Internet address of the bar/cafe you are coming from. A good VPN provider or especially Tor will stop this. Remember that these providers increase latency, making phone calls a bit harder, but they are a lot safer.
Remember that Ross Ulbricht (owner of dark website market Silk Road) was caught in a library. They’d traced back his Internet address and grabbed his laptop out of his hands. Having it turn off (off off, not sleep off) when the lid is closed is one way to reduce this risk. Configuring your web browser to flush all cookies and passwords on restart is another. If they catch you in mid conversation with your secret contact, though, they’ll at least be able to hear your side of the conversation, and know who you are talking to.
The best measure, though it takes some learning, is “Tails live”. It’s a Linux distribution preconfigured with Tor and various secure chat apps that’ll boot from the USB or SD card. When you turn off the computer, nothing will be saved, so there will be no evidence saved to the disk for investigators to retrieve later.
While we are talking about Tor, it should be noted that many news organizations (NYTimes, Washington Post, The Intercept, etc.) support “SecureDrop” accessed only through Tor for receiving anonymous tips. Burner laptops you use from bars from Tails is the likely your most secure way of doing things.
The point of this post was not to provide a howto guide, but to discuss many of the technological issues involved. In a story about White House people investigating leaks, I’d like to see something in this technological direction. I’d like to know exactly how they were investigating leaks. Certainly, they were investigating all work computers, accounts, and phones. Where they also able to get to non-work computers, accounts, phones? Did they have law enforcement powers? What could they do about burner phones and laptops?
In any case, if you do want a howto guide, the discussion above should put some fear into you how easily you can inadvertently make a mistake.
In this article from The MagPi issue 69, David Crookes explains how Daniel Berrangé took an old Kodak Brownie from the 1950s and turned it into a quirky digital camera. Get your copy of The MagPi magazine in stores now, or download it as a free PDF here.
The Kodak Box Brownie
When Kodak unveiled its Box Brownie in 1900, it did so with the slogan ‘You press the button, we do the rest.’ The words referred to the ease-of-use of what was the world’s first mass-produced camera. But it could equally apply to Daniel Berrangé’s philosophy when modifying it for the 21st century. “I wanted to use the Box Brownie’s shutter button to trigger image capture, and make it simple to use,” he tells us.
Daniel’s project grew from a previous effort in which he placed a pinhole webcam inside a ladies’ powder compact case. “The Box Brownie project is essentially a repeat of that design but with a normal lens instead of a pinhole, a real camera case, and improved software to enable a shutter button. Ideally, it would look unchanged from when it was shooting film.”
At first, Daniel looked for a cheap webcam, intending to spend no more than the price of a Pi Zero. This didn’t work out too well. “The low-light performance of the webcam was not sufficient to make a pinhole camera so I just decided to make a ‘normal’ digital camera instead,” he reveals. To that end, he began removing some internal components from the Box Brownie. “With the original lens removed, the task was to position the webcam’s electronic light sensor (the CCD) and lens as close to the front of the camera as possible,” Daniel explains. “In the end, the CCD was about 15 mm away from the front aperture of the camera, giving a field of view that was approximately the same as the unmodified camera would achieve.”
It was then time for him to insert the Raspberry Pi, upon which was a custom ‘init’ binary that loads a couple of kernel modules to run the webcam, mount the microSD file system, and launch the application binary. Here, Daniel found he was in luck. “I’d noticed that the size of a 620 film spool (63 mm) was effectively the same as the width of a Raspberry Pi Zero (65 mm), so it could be held in place between the film spool grips,” he recalls. “It was almost as if it was designed with this in mind.”
In order to operate the camera, Daniel had to work on the shutter button. “The Box Brownie’s shutter button is entirely mechanical, driven by a handful of levers and springs,” Daniel explains. “First, the Pi Zero needs to know when the shutter button is pressed and second, the physical shutter has to be open while the webcam is capturing the image. Rather than try to synchronise image capture with the fraction of a second that the physical shutter is open, a bit of electrical tape was used on the shutter mechanism to keep it permanently open.”
Daniel made use of the Pi Zero’s GPIO pins to detect the pressing of the shutter button. It determines if each pin is at 0 or 5 volts. “My thought was that I could set a GPIO pin high to 5 V, and then use the action of the shutter button to short it to ground, and detect this change in level from software.”
This initially involved using a pair of bare wires and some conductive paint, although the paint was later replaced by a piece of tinfoil. But with the button pressed, the GPIO pin level goes to zero and the device constantly captures still images until the button is released. All that’s left to do is smile and take the perfect snap.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has precipitated to an influx of connected devices and data that can be mined to gain useful business insights. If you own an IoT device, you might want the data to be uploaded seamlessly from your connected devices to the cloud so that you can make use of cloud storage and the processing power to perform sophisticated analysis of data. To upload the data to the AWS Cloud, devices must pass authentication and authorization checks performed by the respective AWS services. The standard way of authenticating AWS requests is the Signature Version 4 algorithm that requires the caller to have an access key ID and secret access key. Consequently, you need to hardcode the access key ID and the secret access key on your devices. Alternatively, you can use the built-in X.509 certificate as the unique device identity to authenticate AWS requests.
AWS IoT has introduced the credentials provider feature that allows a caller to authenticate AWS requests by having an X.509 certificate. The credentials provider authenticates a caller using an X.509 certificate, and vends a temporary, limited-privilege security token. The token can be used to sign and authenticate any AWS request. Thus, the credentials provider relieves you from having to manage and periodically refresh the access key ID and secret access key remotely on your devices.
In the process of retrieving a security token, you use AWS IoT to create a thing (a representation of a specific device or logical entity), register a certificate, and create AWS IoT policies. You also configure an AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) role and attach appropriate IAM policies to the role so that the credentials provider can assume the role on your behalf. You also make an HTTP-over-Transport Layer Security (TLS) mutual authentication request to the credentials provider that uses your preconfigured thing, certificate, policies, and IAM role to authenticate and authorize the request, and obtain a security token on your behalf. You can then use the token to sign any AWS request using Signature Version 4.
In this blog post, I explain the AWS IoT credentials provider design and then demonstrate the end-to-end process of retrieving a security token from AWS IoT and using the token to write a temperature and humidity record to a specific Amazon DynamoDB table.
Note: This post assumes you are familiar with AWS IoT and IAM to perform steps using the AWS CLI and OpenSSL. Make sure you are running the latest version of the AWS CLI.
Overview of the credentials provider workflow
The following numbered diagram illustrates the credentials provider workflow. The diagram is followed by explanations of the steps.
To explain the steps of the workflow as illustrated in the preceding diagram:
The AWS IoT device uses the AWS SDK or custom client to make an HTTPS request to the credentials provider for a security token. The request includes the device X.509 certificate for authentication.
The credentials provider forwards the request to the AWS IoT authentication and authorization module to verify the certificate and the permission to request the security token.
If the certificate is valid and has permission to request a security token, the AWS IoT authentication and authorization module returns success. Otherwise, it returns failure, which goes back to the device with the appropriate exception.
The requested service invokes IAM to validate the signature and authorize the request against access policies attached to the preconfigured IAM role.
If IAM validates the signature successfully and authorizes the request, the request goes through.
In another solution, you could configure an AWS Lambda rule that ingests your device data and sends it to another AWS service. However, in applications that require the uploading of large files such as videos or aggregated telemetry to the AWS Cloud, you may want your devices to be able to authenticate and send data directly to the AWS service of your choice. The credentials provider enables you to do that.
Outline of the steps to retrieve and use security token
Perform the following steps as part of this solution:
Create an AWS IoT thing: Start by creating a thing that corresponds to your home thermostat in the AWS IoT thing registry database. This allows you to authenticate the request as a thing and use thing attributes as policy variables in AWS IoT and IAM policies.
Register a certificate: Create and register a certificate with AWS IoT, and attach it to the thing for successful device authentication.
Create and configure an IAM role: Create an IAM role to be assumed by the service on behalf of your device. I illustrate how to configure a trust policy and an access policy so that AWS IoT has permission to assume the role, and the token has necessary permission to make requests to DynamoDB.
Create a role alias: Create a role alias in AWS IoT. A role alias is an alternate data model pointing to an IAM role. The credentials provider request must include a role alias name to indicate which IAM role to assume for obtaining a security token from AWS STS. You may update the role alias on the server to point to a different IAM role and thus make your device obtain a security token with different permissions.
Attach a policy: Create an authorization policy with AWS IoT and attach it to the certificate to control which device can assume which role aliases.
Request a security token: Make an HTTPS request to the credentials provider and retrieve a security token and use it to sign a DynamoDB request with Signature Version 4.
Use the security token to sign a request: Use the retrieved token to sign a request to DynamoDB and successfully write a temperature and humidity record from your home thermostat in a specific table. Thus, starting with an X.509 certificate on your home thermostat, you can successfully upload your thermostat record to DynamoDB and use it for further analysis. Before the availability of the credentials provider, you could not do this.
Deploy the solution
1. Create an AWS IoT thing
Register your home thermostat in the AWS IoT thing registry database by creating a thing type and a thing. You can use the AWS CLI with the following command to create a thing type. The thing type allows you to store description and configuration information that is common to a set of things.
Now, you need to have a Certificate Authority (CA) certificate, sign a device certificate using the CA certificate, and register both certificates with AWS IoT before your device can authenticate to AWS IoT. If you do not already have a CA certificate, you can use OpenSSL to create a CA certificate, as described in Use Your Own Certificate. To register your CA certificate with AWS IoT, follow the steps on Registering Your CA Certificate.
You then have to create a device certificate signed by the CA certificate and register it with AWS IoT, which you can do by following the steps on Creating a Device Certificate Using Your CA Certificate. Save the certificate and the corresponding key pair; you will use them when you request a security token later. Also, remember the password you provide when you create the certificate.
Run the following command in the AWS CLI to attach the device certificate to your thing so that you can use thing attributes in policy variables.
If the attach-thing-principal command succeeds, the output is empty.
3. Configure an IAM role
Next, configure an IAM role in your AWS account that will be assumed by the credentials provider on behalf of your device. You are required to associate two policies with the role: a trust policy that controls who can assume the role, and an access policy that controls which actions can be performed on which resources by assuming the role.
The following trust policy grants the credentials provider permission to assume the role. Put it in a text document and save the document with the name, trustpolicyforiot.json.
The following access policy allows DynamoDB operations on the table that has the same name as the thing name that you created in Step 1, MyHomeThermostat, by using credentials-iot:ThingName as a policy variable. I explain after Step 5 about using thing attributes as policy variables. Put the following policy in a text document and save the document with the name, accesspolicyfordynamodb.json.
Finally, run the following command in the AWS CLI to attach the access policy to your role.
aws iam attach-role-policy --role-name dynamodb-access-role --policy-arn arn:aws:iam::<your_aws_account_id>:policy/accesspolicyfordynamodb
If the attach-role-policy command succeeds, the output is empty.
Configure the PassRole permissions
The IAM role that you have created must be passed to AWS IoT to create a role alias, as described in Step 4. The user who performs the operation requires iam:PassRole permission to authorize this action. You also should add permission for the iam:GetRole action to allow the user to retrieve information about the specified role. Create the following policy to grant iam:PassRole and iam:GetRole permissions. Name this policy, passrolepermission.json.
Now, run the following command to attach the policy to the user.
aws iam attach-user-policy --policy-arn arn:aws:iam::<your_aws_account_id>:policy/passrolepermission --user-name <user_name>
If the attach-user-policy command succeeds, the output is empty.
4. Create a role alias
Now that you have configured the IAM role, you will create a role alias with AWS IoT. You must provide the following pieces of information when creating a role alias:
RoleAlias: This is the primary key of the role alias data model and hence a mandatory attribute. It is a string; the minimum length is 1 character, and the maximum length is 128 characters.
RoleArn: This is the Amazon Resource Name (ARN) of the IAM role you have created. This is also a mandatory attribute.
CredentialDurationSeconds: This is an optional attribute specifying the validity (in seconds) of the security token. The minimum value is 900 seconds (15 minutes), and the maximum value is 3,600 seconds (60 minutes); the default value is 3,600 seconds, if not specified.
Run the following command in the AWS CLI to create a role alias. Use the credentials of the user to whom you have given the iam:PassRole permission.
You created and registered a certificate with AWS IoT earlier for successful authentication of your device. Now, you need to create and attach a policy to the certificate to authorize the request for the security token.
Let’s say you want to allow a thing to get credentials for the role alias, Thermostat-dynamodb-access-role-alias, with thing owner Alice, thing type thermostat, and the thing attached to a principal. The following policy, with thing attributes as policy variables, achieves these requirements. After this step, I explain more about using thing attributes as policy variables. Put the policy in a text document, and save it with the name, alicethermostatpolicy.json.
If the attach-policy command succeeds, the output is empty.
You have completed all the necessary steps to request an AWS security token from the credentials provider!
Using thing attributes as policy variables
Before I show how to request a security token, I want to explain more about how to use thing attributes as policy variables and the advantage of using them. As a prerequisite, a device must provide a thing name in the credentials provider request.
Thing substitution variables in AWS IoT policies
AWS IoT Simplified Permission Management allows you to associate a connection with a specific thing, and allow the thing name, thing type, and other thing attributes to be available as substitution variables in AWS IoT policies. You can write a generic AWS IoT policy as in alicethermostatpolicy.json in Step 5, attach it to multiple certificates, and authorize the connection as a thing. For example, you could attach alicethermostatpolicy.json to certificates corresponding to each of the thermostats you have that you want to assume the role alias, Thermostat-dynamodb-access-role-alias, and allow operations only on the table with the name that matches the thing name. For more information, see the full list of thing policy variables.
Thing substitution variables in IAM policies
You also can use the following three substitution variables in the IAM role’s access policy (I used credentials-iot:ThingName in accesspolicyfordynamodb.json in Step 3):
When the device provides the thing name in the request, the credentials provider fetches these three variables from the database and adds them as context variables to the security token. When the device uses the token to access DynamoDB, the variables in the role’s access policy are replaced with the corresponding values in the security token. Note that you also can use credentials-iot:AwsCertificateId as a policy variable; AWS IoT returns certificateId during registration.
6. Request a security token
Make an HTTPS request to the credentials provider to fetch a security token. You have to supply the following information:
Certificate and key pair: Because this is an HTTP request over TLS mutual authentication, you have to provide the certificate and the corresponding key pair to your client while making the request. Use the same certificate and key pair that you used during certificate registration with AWS IoT.
RoleAlias: Provide the role alias (in this example, Thermostat-dynamodb-access-role-alias) to be assumed in the request.
ThingName: Provide the thing name that you created earlier in the AWS IoT thing registry database. This is passed as a header with the name, x-amzn-iot-thingname. Note that the thing name is mandatory only if you have thing attributes as policy variables in AWS IoT or IAM policies.
Run the following command in the AWS CLI to obtain your AWS account-specific endpoint for the credentials provider. See the DescribeEndpoint API documentation for further details.
Note that if you are on Mac OS X, you need to export your certificate to a .pfx or .p12 file before you can pass it in the https request. Use OpenSSL with the following command to convert the device certificate from .pem to .pfx format. Remember the password because you will need it subsequently in a curl command.
Create a DynamoDB table called MyHomeThermostat in your AWS account. You will have to choose the hash (partition key) and the range (sort key) while creating the table to uniquely identify a record. Make the hash the serial_number of the thermostat and the range the timestamp of the record. Create a text file with the following JSON to put a temperature and humidity record in the table. Name the file, item.json.
You can use the accessKeyId, secretAccessKey, and sessionToken retrieved from the output of the curl command to sign a request that writes the temperature and humidity record to the DynamoDB table. Use the following commands to accomplish this.
In this blog post, I demonstrated how to retrieve a security token by using an X.509 certificate and then writing an item to a DynamoDB table by using the security token. Similarly, you could run applications on surveillance cameras or sensor devices that exchange the X.509 certificate for an AWS security token and use the token to upload video streams to Amazon Kinesis or telemetry data to Amazon CloudWatch.
If you have comments about this blog post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about or issues implementing this solution, start a new thread on the AWS IoT forum.
Показанията имат две части – за Кеймбридж Аналитика и за намеса в изборите, свързана с Русия, като по всеки от двата въпроса Зукърбърг излага какво се е случило и какво прави компанията FB в отговор.
Изслушванията ще се проведат по предварителни съобщения днес от 21.15 българско време (пред две сенатски комисии – на живо тук – https://cs.pn/2IxEXj7 ) и утре от 17 часа българско време (пред комисия на Камарата на представителите – на живо тук https://cs.pn/2uMK392)
Но мнението на Зейнеп Тюфекчи е по-различно: Какво го да питат в Конгреса: нищо. По-хубаво да си гледат работата.
Many people asked me what lawmakers should ask Mark Zuckerberg. Here’s my answer: Nothing. Instead, they should get to work and pass legislation to fix the reckless surveillance in the digital economy. In my latest NYT oped, I suggest four concrete steps: https://t.co/mgBQ6MjcZhpic.twitter.com/qdSYyZl2O1
SPECIAL NOTE*** THE FULL TUTORIAL WILL BE AVAILABLE NEXT WEEK April Fools! What a terrible day. So many pranks. You can’t believe anything you read. People invading your space. The mental and physical anguish of enduring the day. It’s time to fight back! Let’s catch the perps in action by making a device that always watches.
A Raspberry Pi Zero W, a small camera, and a rechargeable Lithium Polymer (LiPo) battery constitute the bulk of this project’s tech. A pair of 3D-printed parts, and gelatine-solidified Coke Zero make up the fake fizzy body.
“So let’s make this video as short as possible and just buy a cheap pre-made spy cam off of Amazon. Just kidding,” Tinkernut jokes in the tutorial video for the project, before going through the step-by-step process of using the Raspberry Pi to “DIY this the right way”.
After accessing the Zero W from his laptop via SSH, Tinkernut opted for using the rpi_camera_surveillance_system Python script written by GitHub user RuiSantosdotme to control the spy cam. Luckily, this meant no additional library setup, and basically no lag on the video feed.
What we want to do is create a script that activates the camera and serves it to a web page so that we can access it from any web browser. There are plenty of different ways to do this (Motion, Raspivid, etc), but I found a simple Python script that does everything I need it to do and doesn’t require any extra software or libraries to install. The best thing about it is that the lag time is practically unnoticeable.
With the code in place, every boot-up of the Raspberry Pi automatically launches both the script and a web page of the live video, allowing for constant monitoring of potential sneaks and thieves.
The projects is powered by a 1500mAh LiPo battery and the Adafruit LiPo charger. It also includes a simple on/off switch, which Tinkernut wired to the charger and the Pi’s PP1 and PP6 connector pads.
Tinkernut decided to use a Coke Zero bottle for the build, incorporating 3D-printed parts to house the Pi, and a mix of Coke and gelatine to create a realistic-looking filling for the bottle. However, the setup can be transferred to pretty much any hollow item in your home, say, a cookie jar or a cracker box. So get creative and get spying!
A complete spy cam how-to
If you’d like to make your own secret spy cam, you can find a tutorial for Tinkernut’s build at hackster.io, or follow along with his video below. Also make sure to subscribe his YouTube channel to be updated on all his newest builds — they’re rather splendid.
Learn how to take a regular Coke Zero bottle, cram a Raspberry Pi and webcam inside of it, and have it still look like a regular Coke Zero bottle. Why would you want to do this? To spy on those irritating April Fooligans!!!
Spring has sprung, and with it, sleepy-eyed wildlife is beginning to roam our gardens and local woodlands. So why not follow hackster.io maker reichley’s tutorial and build your own solar-powered squirrelhouse nature cam?
“I live half a mile above sea level and am SURROUNDED by animals…bears, foxes, turkeys, deer, squirrels, birds”, reichley explains in his tutorial. “Spring has arrived, and there are LOADS of squirrels running around. I was in the building mood and, being a nerd, wished to combine a common woodworking project with the connectivity and observability provided by single-board computers (and their camera add-ons).”
Building a tiny home
reichley started by sketching out a design for the house to determine where the various components would fit.
Since he’s fan of autonomy and renewable energy, he decided to run the project’s Raspberry Pi Zero W via solar power. To do so, he reiterated the design to include the necessary tech, scaling the roof to fit the panels.
To keep the project running 24/7, reichley had to figure out the overall power consumption of both the Zero W and the Raspberry Pi Camera Module, factoring in the constant WiFi connection and the sunshine hours in his garden.
He used a LiPo SHIM to bump up the power to the required 5V for the Zero. Moreover, he added a BH1750 lux sensor to shut off the LiPo SHIM, and thus the Pi, whenever it’s too dark for decent video.
To control the project, he used Calin Crisan’s motionEyeOS video surveillance operating system for single-board computers.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, news articles and commentators have focused on what Facebook knows about us. A lot, it turns out. It collects data from our posts, our likes, our photos, things we type and delete without posting, and things we do while not on Facebook and even when we’re offline. It buys data about us from others. And it can infer even more: our sexual orientation, political beliefs, relationship status, drug use, and other personality traits — even if we didn’t take the personality test that Cambridge Analytica developed.
But for every article about Facebook’s creepy stalker behavior, thousands of other companies are breathing a collective sigh of relief that it’s Facebook and not them in the spotlight. Because while Facebook is one of the biggest players in this space, there are thousands of other companies that spy on and manipulate us for profit.
Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff calls it “surveillance capitalism.” And as creepy as Facebook is turning out to be, the entire industry is far creepier. It has existed in secret far too long, and it’s up to lawmakers to force these companies into the public spotlight, where we can all decide if this is how we want society to operate and — if not — what to do about it.
There are 2,500 to 4,000 data brokers in the United States whose business is buying and selling our personal data. Last year, Equifax was in thenews when hackers stole personal information on 150 million people, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.
You certainly didn’t give it permission to collect any of that information. Equifax is one of those thousands of data brokers, most of them you’ve never heard of, selling your personal information without your knowledge or consent to pretty much anyone who will pay for it.
Surveillance capitalism takes this one step further. Companies like Facebook and Google offer you free services in exchange for your data. Google’s surveillance isn’t in the news, but it’s startlingly intimate. We never lie to our search engines. Our interests and curiosities, hopes and fears, desires and sexual proclivities, are all collected and saved. Add to that the websites we visit that Google tracks through its advertising network, our Gmail accounts, our movements via Google Maps, and what it can collect from our smartphones.
That phone is probably the most intimate surveillance device ever invented. It tracks our location continuously, so it knows where we live, where we work, and where we spend our time. It’s the first and last thing we check in a day, so it knows when we wake up and when we go to sleep. We all have one, so it knows who we sleep with. Uber used just some of that information to detect one-night stands; your smartphone provider and any app you allow to collect location data knows a lot more.
Surveillance capitalism drives much of the internet. It’s behind most of the “free” services, and many of the paid ones as well. Its goal is psychological manipulation, in the form of personalized advertising to persuade you to buy something or do something, like vote for a candidate. And while the individualized profile-driven manipulation exposed by Cambridge Analytica feels abhorrent, it’s really no different from what every company wants in the end. This is why all your personal information is collected, and this is why it is so valuable. Companies that can understand it can use it against you.
None of this is new. The media has been reporting on surveillance capitalism for years. In 2015, I wrote a book about it. Back in 2010, the Wall Street Journal publishedan award-winning two-year series about how people are tracked both online and offline, titled “What They Know.”
Surveillance capitalism is deeply embedded in our increasingly computerized society, and if the extent of it came to light there would be broad demands for limits and regulation. But because this industry can largely operate in secret, only occasionally exposed after a data breach or investigative report, we remain mostly ignorant of its reach.
This might change soon. In 2016, the European Union passed the comprehensive General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The details of the law are far too complex to explain here, but some of the things it mandates are that personal data of EU citizens can only be collected and saved for “specific, explicit, and legitimate purposes,” and only with explicit consent of the user. Consent can’t be buried in the terms and conditions, nor can it be assumed unless the user opts in. This law will take effect in May, and companies worldwide are bracing for its enforcement.
Because pretty much all surveillance capitalism companies collect data on Europeans, this will expose the industry like nothing else. Here’s just one example. In preparation for this law, PayPal quietlypublished a list of over 600 companies it might share your personal data with. What will it be like when every company has to publish this sort of information, and explicitly explain how it’s using your personal data? We’re about to find out.
In the wake of this scandal, even Mark Zuckerberg saidthat his industry probably should be regulated, although he’s certainly not wishing for the sorts of comprehensive regulation the GDPR is bringing to Europe.
He’s right. Surveillance capitalism has operated without constraints for far too long. And advances in both big data analysis and artificial intelligence will make tomorrow’s applications far creepier than today’s. Regulation is the only answer.
The first step to any regulation is transparency. Who has our data? Is it accurate? What are they doing with it? Who are they selling it to? How are they securing it? Can we delete it? I don’t see any hope of Congress passing a GDPR-like data protection law anytime soon, but it’s not too far-fetched to demand laws requiring these companies to be more transparent in what they’re doing.
One of the responses to the Cambridge Analytica scandal is that people are deleting their Facebook accounts. It’s hard to do right, and doesn’t do anything about the data that Facebook collectsaboutpeople who don’t use Facebook. But it’s a start. The market can put pressure on these companies to reduce their spying on us, but it can only do that if we force the industry out of its secret shadows.
With the Greenland shark finally caught on video for the very first time, scientists and engineers are discussing the limitations of current marine monitoring technology. One significant advance comes from the CSAIL team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): SoFi, the robotic fish.
More info: http://bit.ly/SoFiRobot Paper: http://robert.katzschmann.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/katzschmann2018exploration.pdf
The untethered SoFi robot
Last week, the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) team at MIT unveiled SoFi, “a soft robotic fish that can independently swim alongside real fish in the ocean.”
Directed by a Super Nintendo controller and acoustic signals, SoFi can dive untethered to a maximum of 18 feet for a total of 40 minutes. A Raspberry Pi receives input from the controller and amplifies the ultrasound signals for SoFi via a HiFiBerry. The controller, Raspberry Pi, and HiFiBerry are sealed within a waterproof, cast-moulded silicone membrane filled with non-conductive mineral oil, allowing for underwater equalisation.
The ultrasound signals, received by a modem within SoFi’s head, control everything from direction, tail oscillation, pitch, and depth to the onboard camera.
As explained on MIT’s news blog, “to make the robot swim, the motor pumps water into two balloon-like chambers in the fish’s tail that operate like a set of pistons in an engine. As one chamber expands, it bends and flexes to one side; when the actuators push water to the other channel, that one bends and flexes in the other direction.”
While we’ve seen many autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) using onboard Raspberry Pis, SoFi’s ability to roam untethered with a wireless waterproof controller is an exciting achievement.
“To our knowledge, this is the first robotic fish that can swim untethered in three dimensions for extended periods of time. We are excited about the possibility of being able to use a system like this to get closer to marine life than humans can get on their own.” – CSAIL PhD candidate Robert Katzschmann
As the MIT news post notes, SoFi’s simple, lightweight setup of a single camera, a motor, and a smartphone lithium polymer battery set it apart it from existing bulky AUVs that require large motors or support from boats.
For more in-depth information on SoFi and the onboard tech that controls it, find the CSAIL team’s paper here.
GDPR is the new data protection regulation, as you probably already know. I’ve given a detailed practical advice for what it means for developers (and product owners). However, there’s one thing missing there – cookies. The elephant in the room.
Previously I’ve stated that cookies are subject to another piece of legislation – the ePrivacy directive, which is getting updated and its new version will be in force a few years from now. And while that’s technically correct, cookies seem to be affected by GDPR as well. In a way I’ve underestimated that effect.
When you do a Google search on “GDPR cookies”, you’ll pretty quickly realize that a) there’s not too much information and b) there’s not much technical understanding of the issue.
What appears to be the consensus is that GDPR does change the way cookies are handled. More specifically – tracking cookies. Here’s recital 30:
(30) Natural persons may be associated with online identifiers provided by their devices, applications, tools and protocols, such as internet protocol addresses, cookie identifiers or other identifiers such as radio frequency identification tags. This may leave traces which, in particular when combined with unique identifiers and other information received by the servers, may be used to create profiles of the natural persons and identify them.
How tracking cookies work – a 3rd party (usually an ad network) gives you a code snippet that you place on your website, for example to display ads. That code snippet, however, calls “home” (makes a request to the 3rd party domain). If the 3rd party has previously been used on your computer, it has created a cookie. In the example of Facebook, they have the cookie with your Facebook identifier because you’ve logged in to Facebook. So this cookie (with your identifier) is sent with the request. The request also contains all the details from the page. In effect, you are uniquely identified by an identifier (in the case of Facebook and Google – fully identified, rather than some random anonymous identifier as with other ad networks).
Your behaviour on the website is personal data. It gets associated with your identifier, which in turn is associated with your profile. And all of that is personal data. Who is responsible for collecting the website behaviour data, i.e. who is the “controller”? Is it Facebook (or any other 3rd party) that technically does the collection? No, it’s the website owner, as the behaviour data is obtained on their website, and they have put the tracking piece of code there. So they bear responsibility.
For the data collected by tracking cookies you have two options – “consent” and “legitimate interest”. Legitimate interest will be hard to prove – it is not something that a user reasonably expects, it is not necessary for you to provide the service. If your lawyers can get that option to fly, good for them, but I’m not convinced regulators will be happy with that.
The other option is “consent”. You have to ask your users explicitly – that means “with a checkbox” – to let you use tracking cookies. That has two serious implications – from technical and usability point of view.
The usability aspect is the bigger issue – while you could neatly tuck a cookie warning at the bottom, you’d now have to have a serious, “stop the world” popup that asks for consent if you want anyone to click it. You can, of course, just add a checkbox to the existing cookie warning, but don’t expect anyone to click it.
These aspects pose a significant questions: is it worth it to have tracking cookies? Is developing new functionality worth it, is interrupting the user worth it, and is implementing new functionality just so that users never clicks a hidden checkbox worth it? Especially given that Firefox now blocks all tracking cookies and possibly other browsers will follow?
That by itself is an interesting topic – Firefox has basically implemented the most strict form of requirements of the upcoming ePrivacy directive update (that would turn it into an ePrivacy regulation). Other browsers will have to follow, even though Google may not be happy to block their own tracking cookies. I hope other browsers follow Firefox in tracking protection and the issue will be gone automatically.
To me it seems that it will be increasingly not worthy to have tracking cookies on your website. They add regulatory obligations for you and give you very little benefit (yes, you could track engagement from ads, but you can do that in other ways, arguably by less additional code than supporting the cookie consents). And yes, the cookie consent will be “outsourced” to browsers after the ePrivacy regulation is passed, but we can’t be sure at the moment whether there won’t be technical whack-a-mole between browsers and advertisers and whether you wouldn’t still need additional effort to have dynamic consent for tracking cookies. (For example there are reported issues that Firefox used to make Facebook login fail if tracking protection is enabled. Which could be a simple bug, or could become a strategy by big vendors in the future to force browsers into a less strict tracking protection).
Okay, we’ve decided it’s not worth it managing tracking cookies. But do you have a choice as a website owner? Can you stop your ad network from using them? (Remember – you are liable if users’ data is collected by visiting your website). And currently the answer is no – you can’t disable that. You can’t have “just the ads”. This is part of the “deal” – you get money for the ads you place, but you participate in a big “surveillance” network. Users have a way to opt out (e.g. Google AdWords gives them that option). You, as a website owner, don’t.
And sometimes you don’t want to serve ads, just track user behaviour and measure conversion. But even if you ask for consent for that and conditionally insert the plugin/snippet, do you actually know what data it sends? And what it’s used for? Because you have to know in order to inform your users. “Do you agree to use tracking cookies that Facebook has inserted in order to collect data about your behaviour on our website” doesn’t sound compelling.
So, what to do? The easiest thing is just not to use any 3rd party ad-related plugins. But that’s obviously not an option, as ad revenue is important, especially in the publishing industry. I don’t have a good answer, apart from “Regulators should pressure ad networks to provide opt-outs and clearly document their data usage”. They have to do that under GDPR, and while website owners are responsible for their users’ data, the ad networks that are in the role of processors in this case (as you delegate the data collection for your visitors to them) also have obligation to assist you in fulfilling your obligations. So ask Facebook – what should I do with your tracking cookies? And when the regulator comes after a privacy-aware customer files a complaint, you could prove that you’ve tried.
The ethical debate whether it’s wrong to collect data about peoples’ behaviour without their informed consent is an easy one. And that’s why I don’t put blame on the regulators – they are putting the ethical consensus in law. It gets more complicated if not allowing tracking means some internet services are no longer profitable and therefore can’t exist. Can we have the cake and eat it too?
This is part two of a series on the factors that an organization needs to consider when opening a data center and the challenges that must be met in the process.
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the different types of data centers, the importance of location in planning a data center, data center certification, and the single most expensive factor in running a data center, power.
In Part 2, we continue to look at factors that need to considered both by those interested in a dedicated data center and those seeking to colocate in an existing center.
In part 1, we began our discussion of the power requirements of data centers.
As we discussed, redundancy and failover is a chief requirement for data center power. A redundantly designed power supply system is also a necessity for maintenance, as it enables repairs to be performed on one network, for example, without having to turn off servers, databases, or electrical equipment.
The common critical components of a data center’s power flow are:
Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)
Utility Supply is the power that comes from one or more utility grids. While most of us consider the grid to be our primary power supply (hats off to those of you who manage to live off the grid), politics, economics, and distribution make utility supply power susceptible to outages, which is why data centers must have autonomous power available to maintain availability.
Generators are used to supply power when the utility supply is unavailable. They convert mechanical energy, usually from motors, to electrical energy.
Transfer Switches are used to transfer electric load from one source or electrical device to another, such as from one utility line to another, from a generator to a utility, or between generators. The transfer could be manually activated or automatic to ensure continuous electrical power.
Distribution Panels get the power where it needs to go, taking a power feed and dividing it into separate circuits to supply multiple loads.
A UPS, as we touched on earlier, ensures that continuous power is available even when the main power source isn’t. It often consists of batteries that can come online almost instantaneously when the current power ceases. The power from a UPS does not have to last a long time as it is considered an emergency measure until the main power source can be restored. Another function of the UPS is to filter and stabilize the power from the main power supply.
Data center UPSs
PDU stands for the Power Distribution Unit and is the device that distributes power to the individual pieces of equipment.
After power, the networking connections to the data center are of prime importance. Can the data center obtain and maintain high-speed networking connections to the building? With networking, as with all aspects of a data center, availability is a primary consideration. Data center designers think of all possible ways service can be interrupted or lost, even briefly. Details such as the vulnerabilities in the route the network connections make from the core network (the backhaul) to the center, and where network connections enter and exit a building, must be taken into consideration in network and data center design.
Routers and switches are used to transport traffic between the servers in the data center and the core network. Just as with power, network redundancy is a prime factor in maintaining availability of data center services. Two or more upstream service providers are required to ensure that availability.
How fast a customer can transfer data to a data center is affected by: 1) the speed of the connections the data center has with the outside world, 2) the quality of the connections between the customer and the data center, and 3) the distance of the route from customer to the data center. The longer the length of the route and the greater the number of packets that must be transferred, the more significant a factor will be played by latency in the data transfer. Latency is the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer. Generally latency, not speed, will be the most significant factor in transferring data to and from a data center. Packets transferred using the TCP/IP protocol suite, which is the conceptual model and set of communications protocols used on the internet and similar computer networks, must be acknowledged when received (ACK’d) and requires a communications roundtrip for each packet. If the data is in larger packets, the number of ACKs required is reduced, so latency will be a smaller factor in the overall network communications speed.
Those interested in testing the overall speed and latency of their connection to Backblaze’s data centers can use the Check Your Bandwidth tool on our website.
Data center telecommunications equipment
Data center under floor cable runs
Computer, networking, and power generation equipment generates heat, and there are a number of solutions employed to rid a data center of that heat. The location and climate of the data center is of great importance to the data center designer because the climatic conditions dictate to a large degree what cooling technologies should be deployed that in turn affect the power used and the cost of using that power. The power required and cost needed to manage a data center in a warm, humid climate will vary greatly from managing one in a cool, dry climate. Innovation is strong in this area and many new approaches to efficient and cost-effective cooling are used in the latest data centers.
Switch’s uninterruptible, multi-system, HVAC Data Center Cooling Units
There are three primary ways data center cooling can be achieved:
Room Cooling cools the entire operating area of the data center. This method can be suitable for small data centers, but becomes more difficult and inefficient as IT equipment density and center size increase.
Row Cooling concentrates on cooling a data center on a row by row basis. In its simplest form, hot aisle/cold aisle data center design involves lining up server racks in alternating rows with cold air intakes facing one way and hot air exhausts facing the other. The rows composed of rack fronts are called cold aisles. Typically, cold aisles face air conditioner output ducts. The rows the heated exhausts pour into are called hot aisles. Typically, hot aisles face air conditioner return ducts.
Rack Cooling tackles cooling on a rack by rack basis. Air-conditioning units are dedicated to specific racks. This approach allows for maximum densities to be deployed per rack. This works best in data centers with fully loaded racks, otherwise there would be too much cooling capacity, and the air-conditioning losses alone could exceed the total IT load.
Data Centers are high-security facilities as they house business, government, and other data that contains personal, financial, and other secure information about businesses and individuals.
This list contains the physical-security considerations when opening or co-locating in a data center:
Layered Security Zones. Systems and processes are deployed to allow only authorized personnel in certain areas of the data center. Examples include keycard access, alarm systems, mantraps, secure doors, and staffed checkpoints.
Physical Barriers. Physical barriers, fencing and reinforced walls are used to protect facilities. In a colocation facility, one customers’ racks and servers are often inaccessible to other customers colocating in the same data center.
Backblaze racks secured in the data center
Monitoring Systems. Advanced surveillance technology monitors and records activity on approaching driveways, building entrances, exits, loading areas, and equipment areas. These systems also can be used to monitor and detect fire and water emergencies, providing early detection and notification before significant damage results.
Top-tier providers evaluate their data center security and facilities on an ongoing basis. Technology becomes outdated quickly, so providers must stay-on-top of new approaches and technologies in order to protect valuable IT assets.
To pass into high security areas of a data center requires passing through a security checkpoint where credentials are verified.
The gauntlet of cameras and steel bars one must pass before entering this data center
Facilities and Services
Data center colocation providers often differentiate themselves by offering value-added services. In addition to the required space, power, cooling, connectivity and security capabilities, the best solutions provide several on-site amenities. These accommodations include offices and workstations, conference rooms, and access to phones, copy machines, and office equipment.
Additional features may consist of kitchen facilities, break rooms and relaxation lounges, storage facilities for client equipment, and secure loading docks and freight elevators.
Would you Like to Know More about The Challenges of Opening and Running a Data Center?
That’s it for part 2 of this series. If readers are interested, we could write a post about some of the new technologies and trends affecting data center design and use. Please let us know in the comments.
Don’t miss future posts on data centers and other topics, including hard drive stats, cloud storage, and tips and tricks for backing up to the cloud. Use the Join button above to receive notification of future posts on our blog.
If you’re going to commit an illegal act, it’s best not to discuss it in e-mail. It’s also best to Google tech instructions rather than asking someone else to do it:
One new detail from the indictment, however, points to just how unsophisticated Manafort seems to have been. Here’s the relevant passage from the indictment. I’ve bolded the most important bits:
Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI’s income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a “Word” document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that “Word” document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the “Word” document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.
So here’s the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller’s investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company’s income, but he couldn’t figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort’s inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively “created an incriminating paper trail.”
I know from first hand experience the FBI is corrupt. In 2007, they threatened me, trying to get me to cancel a talk that revealed security vulnerabilities in a large corporation’s product. Such abuses occur because there is no transparency and oversight. FBI agents write down our conversation in their little notebooks instead of recording it, so that they can control the narrative of what happened, presenting their version of the converstion (leaving out the threats). In this day and age of recording devices, this is indefensible.
She writes “I know firsthand that it’s difficult to get a FISA warrant“. Yes, the process was difficult for her, an underling, to get a FISA warrant. The process is different when a leader tries to do the same thing.
I know this first hand having casually worked as an outsider with intelligence agencies. I saw two processes in place: one for the flunkies, and one for those above the system. The flunkies constantly complained about how there is too many process in place oppressing them, preventing them from getting their jobs done. The leaders understood the system and how to sidestep those processes.
That’s not to say the Nunes Memo has merit, but it does point out that privacy advocates have a point in wanting more oversight and transparency in such surveillance of American citizens.
Blaming us privacy advocates isn’t the way to go. It’s not going to succeed in tarnishing us, but will push us more into Trump’s camp, causing us to reiterate that we believe the FBI and FISA are corrupt.
For over a decade, civil libertarians have been fighting government mass surveillance of innocent Americans over the Internet. We’ve just lost an important battle. On January 18, President Trumpsigned the renewal of Section 702, domestic mass surveillance became effectively a permanent part of US law.
Section 702 was initially passed in 2008, as an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. As the title of that law says, it was billed as a way for the NSA to spy on non-Americans located outside the United States. It was supposed to be an efficiency and cost-saving measure: the NSA was already permitted to tap communications cables located outside the country, and it was already permitted to tap communications cables from one foreign country to another that passed through the United States. Section 702 allowed it to tap those cables from inside the United States, where it was easier. It also allowed the NSA to request surveillance data directly from Internet companies under a program called PRISM.
The problem is that this authority also gave the NSA the ability to collect foreign communications and data in a way that inherently and intentionally also swept up Americans’ communications as well, without a warrant. Other law enforcement agencies are allowed to ask the NSA to search those communications, give their contents to the FBI and other agencies and then lie about their origins in court.
In 1978, after Watergate had revealed the Nixon administration’s abuses of power, we erected a wall between intelligence and law enforcement that prevented precisely this kind of sharing of surveillance data under any authority less restrictive than the Fourth Amendment. Weakening that wall is incredibly dangerous, and the NSA should never have been given this authority in the first place.
Arguably, it never was. The NSA had been doing this type of surveillance illegally for years, something that was first made public in 2006. Section 702 was secretly used as a way to paper over that illegal collection, but nothing in the text of the later amendment gives the NSA this authority. We didn’t know that the NSA was using this law as the statutory basis for this surveillance until Edward Snowden showed us in 2013.
Civil libertarians have been battling this law in both Congress and the courts ever since it was proposed, and the NSA’s domestic surveillance activities even longer. What this most recent vote tells me is that we’ve lost that fight.
Section 702 was passed under George W. Bush in 2008, reauthorized under Barack Obama in 2012, and now reauthorized again under Trump. In all three cases, congressional support was bipartisan. It has survived multiple lawsuits by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and others. It has survived the revelations by Snowden that it was being used far more extensively than Congress or the public believed, and numerous public reports of violations of the law. It has even survived Trump’s belief that he was being personally spied on by the intelligence community, as well as any congressional fears that Trump could abuse the authority in the coming years. And though this extension lasts only six years, it’s inconceivable to me that it will ever be repealed at this point.
So what do we do? If we can’t fight this particular statutory authority, where’s the new front on surveillance? There are, it turns out, reasonable modifications that target surveillance more generally, and not in terms of any particular statutory authority. We need to look at US surveillance law more generally.
First, we need to strengthen the minimization procedures to limit incidental collection. Since the Internet was developed, all the world’s communications travel around in a single global network. It’s impossible to collect only foreign communications, because they’re invariably mixed in with domestic communications. This is called “incidental” collection, but that’s a misleading name. It’s collected knowingly, and searched regularly. The intelligence community needs much stronger restrictions on which American communications channels it can access without a court order, and rules that require they delete the data if they inadvertently collect it. More importantly, “collection” is defined as the point the NSA takes a copy of the communications, and not later when they search their databases.
Second, we need to limit how other law enforcement agencies can use incidentally collected information. Today, those agencies can query a database of incidental collection on Americans. The NSA can legally pass information to those other agencies. This has to stop. Data collected by the NSA under its foreign surveillance authority should not be used as a vehicle for domestic surveillance.
The most recent reauthorization modified this lightly, forcing the FBI to obtain a court order when querying the 702 data for a criminal investigation. There are still exceptions and loopholes, though.
Third, we need to end what’s called “parallel construction.” Today, when a law enforcement agency uses evidence found in this NSA database to arrest someone, it doesn’t have to disclose that fact in court. It can reconstruct the evidence in some other manner once it knows about it, and then pretend it learned of it that way. This right to lie to the judge and the defense is corrosive to liberty, and it must end.
Pressure to reform the NSA will probably first come from Europe. Already, European Union courts have pointed to warrantless NSA surveillance as a reason to keep Europeans’ data out of US hands. Right now, there is a fragile agreement between the EU and the United States – called “Privacy Shield” — that requires Americans to maintain certain safeguards for international data flows. NSA surveillance goes against that, and it’s only a matter of time before EU courts start ruling this way. That’ll have significant effects on both government and corporate surveillance of Europeans and, by extension, the entire world.
Further pressure will come from the increased surveillance coming from the Internet of Things. When your home, car, and body are awash in sensors, privacy from both governments and corporations will become increasingly important. Sooner or later, society will reach a tipping point where it’s all too much. When that happens, we’re going to see significant pushback against surveillance of all kinds. That’s when we’ll get new laws that revise all government authorities in this area: a clean sweep for a new world, one with new norms and new fears.
It’s possible that a federal court will rule on Section 702. Although there have been many lawsuits challenging the legality of what the NSA is doing and the constitutionality of the 702 program, no court has ever ruled on those questions. The Bush and Obama administrations successfully argued that defendants don’t have legal standing to sue. That is, they have no right to sue because they don’t know they’re being targeted. If any of the lawsuits can get past that, things might change dramatically.
Meanwhile, much of this is the responsibility of the tech sector. This problem exists primarily because Internet companies collect and retain so much personal data and allow it to be sent across the network with minimal security. Since the government has abdicated its responsibility to protect our privacy and security, these companies need to step up: Minimize data collection. Don’t save data longer than absolutely necessary. Encrypt what has to be saved. Well-designed Internet services will safeguard users, regardless of government surveillance authority.
For the rest of us concerned about this, it’s important not to give up hope. Everything we do to keep the issue in the public eye – and not just when the authority comes up for reauthorization again in 2024 — hastens the day when we will reaffirm our rights to privacy in the digital age.
Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva, Israel have built a proof-of-concept system for counter-surveillance against spy drones that demonstrates a clever, if not exactly simple, way to determine whether a certain person or object is under aerial surveillance. They first generate a recognizable pattern on whatever subject — a window, say — someone might want to guard from potential surveillance. Then they remotely intercept a drone’s radio signals to look for that pattern in the streaming video the drone sends back to its operator. If they spot it, they can determine that the drone is looking at their subject.
In other words, they can see what the drone sees, pulling out their recognizable pattern from the radio signal, even without breaking the drone’s encrypted video.
The details have to do with the way drone video is compressed:
The researchers’ technique takes advantage of an efficiency feature streaming video has used for years, known as “delta frames.” Instead of encoding video as a series of raw images, it’s compressed into a series of changes from the previous image in the video. That means when a streaming video shows a still object, it transmits fewer bytes of data than when it shows one that moves or changes color.
That compression feature can reveal key information about the content of the video to someone who’s intercepting the streaming data, security researchers have shown in recent research, even when the data is encrypted.
Abstract: Millions of people use adblockers to remove intrusive and malicious ads as well as protect themselves against tracking and pervasive surveillance. Online publishers consider adblockers a major threat to the ad-powered “free” Web. They have started to retaliate against adblockers by employing anti-adblockers which can detect and stop adblock users. To counter this retaliation, adblockers in turn try to detect and filter anti-adblocking scripts. This back and forth has prompted an escalating arms race between adblockers and anti-adblockers.
At the end of October, the KAISER patch set was unveiled; this work separates the page tables used by the kernel from those belonging to user space in an attempt to address x86 processor bugs that can disclose the layout of the kernel to an attacker. Those patches have seen significant work in the weeks since their debut, but they appear to be approaching a final state. It seems like an appropriate time for another look.
The FDA hasapproved a pill with an embedded sensor that can report when it is swallowed. The pill transmits information to a wearable patch, which in turn transmits information to a smartphone.
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