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Belmont Club

The End of Innocence

June 9th, 2013 - 5:35 pm

Bruce Schneier, who writes prolifically on computer security issues, argues on CNN that revelations about NSA data mining programs prove that ‘resistance is futile’. He cites the case of two individuals, manifestly more computer savvy than the average Joe, who were ultimately unable to escape the toils of the FBI.

Hector Monsegur, one of the leaders of the LulzSac hacker movement, was identified and arrested last year by the FBI. Although he practiced good computer security and used an anonymous relay service to protect his identity, he slipped up. …Paula Broadwell,who had an affair with CIA director David Petraeus, similarly took extensive precautions to hide her identity. She never logged in to her anonymous e-mail service from her home network. Instead, she used hotel and other public networks when she e-mailed him. The FBI correlated hotel registration data from several different hotels — and hers was the common name…

Schneier concludes, “Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.”

Well I wouldn’t say that.

Governments have been fighting over the information owned by civilians for a long time. China has been engaged in reading data and metadata (which Drudge intentionally misspells as “megadata”) for a long time. The Financial Times  has just described a 21st century instance of war. It’s no longer conducted by sweaty armies marching on leather boots. It’s done virtually.  Think about it. The President of the US just met with the President of China, not to talk about ships, artillery or planes. They were talking about bits.

Beijing is engaged in systematic cyber spying on the US military and private businesses to acquire technology to boost military modernization and strengthen its capacity in any regional crisis, according to the Pentagon. …

In its report, the Pentagon paints a picture of a formidable and highly organised adversary which is using multiple methods to acquire technology, ranging from state businesses to students to old-fashioned human espionage.

“China continues to leverage foreign investments, commercial joint ventures, academic exchanges, the experience of repatriated Chinese students and researchers, and state-sponsored industrial and technical espionage to increase the level of technologies and expertise available to support military research, development, and acquisition,” the report says.

Like a old-time striptease show we see a little more with each wave of the fan. The next big revelation is probably going to be about financial wiretapping. PBS says “Obama Defends NSA’s Surveillance of Phone, Web and Credit Card Use”. Well why not? It’s a very short distance from “you didn’t build that” to “you don’t own that”. In fact they are equivalent statements. But whether there will be anything left to own after the vultures have their way is another question.

The world economy depends to a very great extent on information. And our great leaders are doing everything they can to make us mistrust it. As every applications developer and network professional understands, information flows demand some level of trust.  That is why billions of dollars are invested on security systems. A currency is largely about trust. Proven insecurity will certainly undermine a financial institution or communications system, as Michael Bloomberg learned.

A multibillionaire, dissatisfied with being just a business tycoon, starts a media division, brands it with his name and starts to gobble up competition and talent. Then he decides to run for office …

Meanwhile, it appears that his news company, like him, doesn’t like to adhere to the rules of the road. It turns out they have been using the terminals named after the billionaire and that made his fortune to peep and pry into the personal activities of important clients, including the nation’s biggest banks and even top government officials.

But this isn’t happening in a foreign country, it’s a homegrown embarrassment by American oligarch Michael Bloomberg.

Michael Bloomberg is now worried the market will punish him, because it will. Bloomberg’s predicament creates a competitive opportunity for rivals who can demonstrate they are more secure than Bloomberg’s service. Glenn Derene of Popular Mechanics writes that the Federal Government’s surveillance efforts will manifestly affect US tech companies.

Think for a second about just how the U.S. economy has changed in the last 40 years. While a large percentage of our economy is still based in manufacturing, some of the most ascendant U.S. companies since the 1970s have been in the information technology sector. Companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google are major exporters of information services (if you can think of such a thing as “exportable”) through products such as Gmail, iCloud, Exchange, and Azure. Hundreds of millions of people use these services worldwide, and it has just been revealed to everybody outside the U.S. that our government reserves the right to look into their communications whenever it wants.

If you lived in Japan, India, Australia, Mexico, or Brazil, and you used Gmail, or synced your photos through iCloud, or chatted via Skype, how would you feel about that? Let’s say you ran a business in those countries that relied upon information services from a U.S. company. Don’t these revelations make using such a service a business liability? In fact, doesn’t this news make it a national security risk for pretty much any other country to use information services from companies based in the U.S.? How should we expect the rest of the world to react?

Here’s a pretty good guess: Other countries will start routing around the U.S. information economy by developing, or even mandating, their own competing services. In 2000, the European Union worked out a series of “Safe Harbor” regulations mandating privacy protection standards for companies storing E.U. citizens’ data on servers outside of the E.U. For U.S. companies, that means applying stronger privacy protection for European data than for our own citizens’ data. And now there is considerable reason to believe that Prism violated our Safe Harbor agreements with the E.U.

Has it come to this? Are we really willing to let the fear of terrorism threaten one of the most important sectors of the U.S. economy?

The answer to is “yes” as in “yes we can”. But no one else seems to have learned the lesson. Question: what do you do after spending millions of developer manhours to secure a system? Why you build a backdoor. And then maybe the Chinese come along and … On the eve of Pearl Harbor the commanders worried that saboteurs were going to blow up the army’s P-40s. So to prevent that they were all ordered parked in the middle of the runway where no saboteur could possible get them.

The NSA leaker is actually a contractor who is in Hong Kong. A surveillance task had been outsourced. What could go wrong?  Even if the administration proved the leaker was working for the other side it would prove the point.

“We Can’t Spy . . . If We Can’t Buy!” the article said. Right and if you can Buy then you can Spy.

I think Derene is wrong about ascribing consumer of surveillance fears to counterterrorism efforts. Publics will accept a certain amount of intrusion as part of the price of good governance. If the public believed that Obama administration were only accessing records of terrorists pursuant to a court order, or that adequate due process protected privacy, few would mind.

What consumers are scared of is politics. What they are really terrified of is caprice; the possibility they will be punished or harassed, not for being enemies of the law, but enemies of Obama. That they will be found guilty as charged of holding a political opinion or subscribing to an innocent belief that is out of fashion with the powers that be.

Companies and users have long factored in the known risks of engaging in criminal activity. They understand that criminal behavior carries risks. But now the consumers and service providers must live with the risk of ‘unknown unknown’;  secret courts, guided by secret jurisprudence and executing secret actions. If the message of the administration is that privacy is ‘no big deal’ it will find that nobody who wants to tax the information economy can be so cavalier.

One can only imagine the results of lawsuits related to the European “Safe Harbor Law”, which ostensibly “sets comparatively strict privacy protections for EU citizens. It prohibits European firms from transferring personal data to overseas jurisdictions with weaker privacy laws, but creates exceptions where the foreign recipients have voluntarily agreed to meet EU standards under the Directive’s Safe Harbor Principles.” Especially when the Europeans learn the “Safe Harbor” law is actually spelled Information Roach Motel.

Information technology, like nuclear weapons, will never be uninvented.  The best anyone can hope for it is to put it under control. Harry Truman had the wit not to point nuclear weapons at anyone randomly. Our better educated leaders have lost the knack. If we wish to enjoy the enormous benefits of information technology, it is necessary to bring it under control. To restore it to its legitimate uses. And as for those who have undermined its legitimacy, well they have lost theirs and one hopes the political process will reflect this.

Finance was virtualized by Richard Nixon’s decision to go off the Gold Standard. Warfare was largely virtualized by the nuclear age. Now legitimacy is being virtualized by the narrative. To a degree never before since Genesis, “in the beginning there was the Word and the Word has 64 bits”. To survive in that virtual age, average citizens are going to learn that the 4th Amendment is really the equivalent of the 2nd Amendment; and that encryption, private networks and the limits of government power over such things are the price of liberty.

Obama promised to usher in the age of idealism. Ironically he rang down the curtain on innocence. But maybe he was never that; for how would we know the truth in a wilderness of mirrors?

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence, a time of confidences
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph
It’s still unphotoshopped, they’re all that’s left you

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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Top Rated Comments   
Woody Allen makes the fundamental error of believing "they won't come for me. I am 'on his side', why should they? I have friends in the administration, etc" That's just like believing the tiger won't eat you because you were friendly toward him.

The Old Bolsheviks thought, "how can my friend and comrade Koba kill me?" Well he could. He killed them especially because they knew him; knew his secrets; presumed a little power from acquaintance. History hows that nobody -- nobody -- kills as many leftists as a leftist.

And still they think: the tiger won't eat me.

The first lesson of history, the one they should teach incessantly, is that if you give absolute power to someone, he will use it. No one will be spared.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All of these "scandals" that keep popping up every other day are all intended to distract us from the real scandal - Benghazi. I agree completely that each of these should be investigated as appropriate, but do not forget Benghazi. Dear Leader and the corrupt dems are terrified Benghazi will be exposed to the shining light of truth.

Speaker John Boehner has blocked any serious investigation into the Benghazi affair. Rep. John Wolf (R-VA) has a bill with 114 co-sponsors to create a special investigation into the Benghazi affair, but Old Yellowstain will not let it proceed. The wonderful American patriots in Ohio should be ashamed of that corrupt weasel.

Remember Benghazi! God bless America
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I may be a cynical paranoiac but the thing that troubles me most about this whole episode is the fact that (1) Either the data mining/connection system doesn't work or (2) its not being used for the purposes for which it was supposedly intended.

We had information from Russia and Saudi Arabia regarding the Boston Bomber Brothers, yet nothing was done. Is the system so bad or is its primary purpose something else entirely in which case detecting and preventing acts of Islamic terrorism just isn't a high priority? If the latter is the case then just what is the main purpose of this? Why can't we be told?

And then there is the rather chilling possibility that acts of terrorism are essentially allowed to happen to provide an ongoing excuse for maintaining and expanding police powers and the surveillance state. It might indeed have originally been intended to combat terrorism, but it has so many other uses, most of which the average person would find revolting.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (71)
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If and when the Chinese hack the NSA database, and if and when they peruse the infinitude of emails and Internet activity by Americans, what will likely astound them most profoundly is the amount of porn Americans consume.

Mr X: You are lovin' this sh*t, aren't you, you lovable Russian paranoid bear. You are just eating it up with a big spoon.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I think that Obama made a deal with NSA/CIA to do certain things (keep open Guantanamo, continue drone strikes) in return for getting information about his opponents, thus giving him a tactical and political edge." With all due respect to blert, Obama has people pulling his strings, too. Why else the bizarre statements at the time about 'fundamentally transforming this country' (ok dismiss that as grandiose koolaid drinking 2008 rhetoric, fine). But NO ONE has explained to me what Obama meant by this:

Except D.W. Ulsterman's 'White House Insider', who credibly says that Obama and Michelle were sending the signal to their 'investors' (read: offshore globalists like Soros and Leo Gerard) that they were ready to take this thing all the way. There is no doubt in my mind that the senior echelons of Obama's circle have had access to NSA intercepts and recorded convos, why else would they have been so arrogant and think they could get away with everything they have so far? They've got the dirt on at least half of Congress, totally intimidated.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hmm. I guess we've advance that far, since Hilda had to make due with mere boxes of FBI files. Long live the paperless office!

What scares me, insofar as any of this does cuz none of it surprises me, is when Snowden says he could push a button and get exactly that voice intercept that Obambus claims nobody, that is hardly anybody, is doing.

Other than that I'm sure the volume of data is choking the NSA and is a tar pit for everyone who steps in it. Which implies it probably will be used more for abusive purposes than for productive ones. Which still does not decide the issue, I'm just sayin'.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Decide who your enemies are, then go find the data to destroy them. It will be there in the archives, waiting, for whomever comes looking.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The question is now, with the rumblings that Anonymous has hacked Obama's personal Skype account, are we seeing his bosses turn on their puppet? Is Snowden an unwitting pawn in a larger game? Watching the video again he seems sincere enough, definitely not the same material as an Aldrich Ames or Robert Hansen. Indeed he explicitly disavows the idea that he is working for a foreign power by saying if he'd wanted to he could've sold his soul and a massive amount of secrets and burned former colleagues for that case he'd already be put up in Moscow, Minsk, or Beijing. But he hasn't done that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The violation of privacy by the PRISM project isn’t a corporate problem. The government collected, collated, and weaponized the data for use against its enemies, both foreign nationals and US citizens.

"For U.S. companies, that means applying stronger privacy protection for European data than for our own citizens’ data”

Do the subjects of the EU worry only about corporations? What laws does the EU have about itself and its member nations violating its subjects’ privacy? And are those laws obeyed? (Answer: certainly not.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My commentary 'All right, Mr. President, Let's have this debate' in the local paper:
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
During the Soviet Purge Stalin's minions felt required to extract damning admissions or evidence.

But with the NSA off the leash -- it's easy as pie to digitally impersonate you: to place you at their whim, and delete you, likewise.

The only thing keeping you out of the docket is the good will of the powers that be.

As we've seen with the Apple 'show trial' (shakedown) -- media circus -- that's a very flexible and thin reed.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Communication traffic is assumed to be secure because it is ephemeral and because each is hidden within an enormous volume of extraneous noise. It is possible to grab and freeze all the volume for methodical sorting and decryption so that target traffic is no longer ephemeral and concealed within the mass. The VENONA project was the harbinger of this intensive approach.

The mere capture of the volume does not reveal the contents, which must be ferreted out and examined with greater or lesser effort depending on the degree of encryption. VENONA took 40 years to analyze four years of limited captured electronic traffic.

The problem today is that NSA has become extremely good at its job. Capture is vast and analysis can be almost instantaneous. This is a good thing in the sense that any advanced military advantage is good for the US. The bad part is the use of this capability against civilians, not to kill them but to destroy them politically and economically.

In a sense, NSA is a weapon of mass destruction. Everyone is swept up in the captured traffic. Who do we trust to calibrate the process to find the legitimate enemy target? How much collateral damage is acceptable? The temptations are very real for politicians whose primary commitment is to themselves. We are seeing how this manifests itself in the operations of the IRS in dealing with grass roots political activity.

Unfortunately, the genie may be out of the bottle with NSA. Like nuclear weapons, the advantage is too great to leave solely to our enemies.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
----"Unfortunately, the genie may be out of the bottle with NSA. Like nuclear weapons, the advantage is too great to leave solely to our enemies."---

Enemies come in at least two flavors; Foreign and Domestic. We are dealing with the Domestic variety, and even if the Left is removed from power, whoever replaces them is going to have to use the exact same tactics at the least to destroy the Left. If they do not, the Left will use the tactics against the replacement.

Our world is forever changed. There is no going back before one side destroys the other, literally not metaphorically.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Two things I haven't heard mentioned, yet. First, per the old saw, "Tracer bullets work both ways," not only can the aitch admin track your correspondence, it can track you by extrapolation.
For example, you purchase a gun with your credit card. ATM or h*ll, even CASH! The gov't can track - through the purchase receipt - the fact you are a gun owner. (Stay with me.) THEN, the gov't can "Ping" your name at any type store that sells ammo, at regular intervals, to see how much ammo you buy. They can then even FURTHER extrapolate that the "average" gun owner buys less than you do. BINGO! YOU are on a "Watch List!" Finally, on this topic, conflate that out to any number of prchases or regular activities you engage in. (Camping in the woods or buying Nyquill, for example.)
Sorry to all the moonbats monitoring this site. But it doesn't seem at all farfetched to me.
Second, I seem to recall a warning a few years ago about computer hackers who could worm into your computer and turn your video camera on. Especially if you kept something like Skype running in the background. So I submit, could "Big Brother" LITERALLY "be watching?"
These are simply two of inummerable potential rammifications of an unchecked admin "hiding behind the curtain" of looking out for us.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The purpose of the data collection, collation and analysis has become an end in itself. I have read a few different blogs where people who ostensibly worked for NSA at various locations here and there and at Ft Meade assured us that "spying on American citizens was forbidden" and "4th amendment rights were vigorously observer". I am sure.

I am sure of one thing, and that everything was very compartmentalized at NSA. That few people actually understood or knew exactly what was going on. I am sure that Mr. Snowden is a cut out of a sort. I am sure he sincerely believes he is "leaking for liberty". I am also sure there is a secret struggle going on to control this ocean of information, either for its intended use or for the agrandizement of political power.

I think that Obama made a deal with NSA/CIA to do certain things (keep open Guantanamo, continue drone strikes) in return for getting information about his opponents, thus giving him a tactical and political edge.

Obama, being the megalomaniacal narcissist, wanted power to "organize" more than anything else, organize for America. Of course, the power to organize is, in part, the power of information.

And bringing it back to the cut-out Snowden: he was a nobody contractor, being fed information, being prepped to leak and fly at the appropriate time. It would be of course, interesting to know who his handler was inside the NSA, and why this moment was chosen. There is a war inside the NSA and Obama Regime as to what is actually supposed to be going on.

To protect their information gathering and analysis, the NSA may have to appear to destroy it.

The narrative must go on, no matter what. The narrative of who and what Obama is. The purpose of Snowden is then either to continue the narrative by other means (is he a hero, traitor, or fraud?), and how will he be treated will be the clue.

We are a long way deep and down the rabbit hole.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are far gone.

Presidents don't make 'deals' with their minions. They issue walking orders. Period.

It'd be like you making a 'deal' with the Godfather -- only this time the President as much, much, more power -- and you'd have zero allies.

That's some negotiation.

You're entire premise of how the world works needs a reboot.

Read more.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The WaPo had a headline the other day about the major IT companies saying that the surveillance systems are "legal" and "safe" or something. Of course they are. And I own a bunch of unicorns and use their poop to fertilize my money trees.
Define "legal." We've wandered so far away from that quaint Constitution thing that legality is whatever the consensus is among the powers-that-be. Even here we get complacent. For all the genuine disgrace that Benghazi is, the underlying fact is it was a consequence of a war fought without Congressional approval. Yet even here that point is rarely made anymore.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Anyone notice how close PRISM sounds to PRISON?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You missed it: the NSA has been know as the "Crystal Palace" for the longest time.

Get it?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The first time I heard it, I thought it was PRISON. And I thought, "How appropriate."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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