Security

Senate Passes Bill Renewing NSA's Internet Surveillance Program (reuters.com) 96

From a report: The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program for six years and with minimal changes, overcoming objections from civil liberties advocates that it did too little to safeguard the privacy of Americans. From a report on CNET: The programs, known as Prism and Upstream, allow the NSA to collect online communications of foreigners outside the US. Prism collects these communications from internet services, and Upstream taps into the internet's infrastructure to capture information in transit. Some communications from Americans and others in the US are collected in the process. The vote Thursday renews the programs for six years. The House approved a bill renewing the programs last week. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the programs by leaking information about them to journalists in 2013. After the news coverage, the administration of President Barack Obama declassified much information about the programs.
Software

'Very High Level of Confidence' Russia Used Kaspersky Software For Devastating NSA Leaks (yahoo.com) 232

bricko shares a report from Yahoo Finance: Three months after U.S. officials asserted that Russian intelligence used popular antivirus company Kaspersky to steal U.S. classified information, there are indications that the alleged espionage is related to a public campaign of highly damaging NSA leaks by a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers. In August 2016, the Shadow Brokers began leaking classified NSA exploit code that amounted to hacking manuals. In October 2017, U.S. officials told major U.S. newspapers that Russian intelligence leveraged software sold by Kaspersky to exfiltrate classified documents from certain computers. (Kaspersky software, like all antivirus software, requires access to everything stored on a computer so that it can scan for malicious software.) And last week the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investigators "now believe that those manuals [leaked by Shadow Brokers] may have been obtained using Kaspersky to scan computers on which they were stored." Members of the computer security industry agree with that suspicion. "I think there's a very high level of confidence that the Shadow Brokers dump was directly related to Kaspersky ... and it's very much attributable," David Kennedy, CEO of TrustedSec, told Yahoo Finance. "Unfortunately, we can only hear that from the intelligence side about how they got that information to see if it's legitimate."
Government

House Passes Bill To Renew NSA Internet Spying Tool (reuters.com) 114

Dustin Volz, reporting for Reuters: The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program, overcoming objections from privacy advocates and confusion prompted by morning tweets from President Donald Trump that initially questioned the spying tool. The legislation, which passed 256-164 and split party lines, is the culmination of a yearslong debate in Congress on the proper scope of U.S. intelligence collection -- one fueled by the 2013 disclosures of classified surveillance secrets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Senior Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives had urged cancellation of the vote after Trump appeared to cast doubt on the merits of the program, but Republicans forged ahead.
Privacy

Congress Is About To Vote On Expanding the Warrantless Surveillance of Americans (vice.com) 226

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On Tuesday afternoon, a handful of U.S. Representatives will convene to review an amendment that would reauthorize warrantless foreign surveillance and expand the law so that it could include American citizens. It would, in effect, legalize a surveillance practice abandoned by the NSA in 2017 in order to appease the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which found the NSA to have abused its collection capacity several times. If it passes Tuesday's review, the bill may be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives as early as Thursday. Drafted by the House Intelligence Committee last December, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 is an amendment to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It is one of six different FISA-related bills under consideration by Congress at the moment, but by far the most damaging to the privacy rights of American citizens.

FISA was enacted in 1978, but Section 702, referred to by former FBI Director James Comey as the "crown jewels of the intelligence community," wasn't added until 2008. This section allows intelligence agencies to surveil any foreigner outside the U.S. without a warrant that the agency considers a target. The problem is that this often resulted in the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens as well due to two loopholes known as "backdoor searches" and "about collection." Backdoor search refers to a roundabout way of monitoring Americans' communications. Since intelligence agencies are able to designate any foreigner's communications as a target for surveillance, if this foreigner has communicated with an American this means this American's communications are then also considered fair game for surveillance by the agency.

AI

Ex-NSA Hacker Is Building an AI To Find Hate and Far-Right Symbols on Twitter and Facebook (vice.com) 509

Motherboard reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai has interviewed Emily Crose, a former NSA hacker, who has built NEMESIS, an AI-powered program that can help spot symbols that have been co-opted by hate groups to signal to each other in plain sight. Crose, who has also moderated Reddit in the past, thought of building NEMESIS after the Charlottesville, Virginia incident last year. From the report: Crose's motivation is to expose white nationalists who use more or less obscure, mundane, or abstract symbols -- or so-called dog whistles -- in their posts, such as the Black Sun and certain Pepe the frog memes. Crose's goal is not only to expose people who use these symbols online but hopefully also push the social media companies to clamp down on hateful rhetoric online. "The real goal is to educate people," Crose told me in a phone call. "And a secondary goal: I'd really like to get the social media platforms to start thinking how they can enforce some decency on their own platforms, a certain level of decorum." [...]

At a glance, the way NEMESIS works is relatively simple. There's an "inference graph," which is a mathematical representation of trained images, classified as Nazi or white supremacist symbols. This inference graph trains the system with machine learning to identify the symbols in the wild, whether they are in pictures or videos. In a way, NEMESIS is dumb, according to Crose, because there are still humans involved, at least at the beginning. NEMESIS needs a human to curate the pictures of the symbols in the inference graph and make sure they are being used in a white supremacist context. For Crose, that's the key to the whole project -- she absolutely does not want NEMESIS to flag users who post Hindu swastikas, for example -- so NEMESIS needs to understand the context. "It takes thousands and thousands of images to get it to work just right," she said.

The Almighty Buck

NSA's Top Talent is Leaving Because of Low Pay, Slumping Morale and Unpopular Reorganization (washingtonpost.com) 225

Ellen Nakashima and Aaron Gregg, reporting for the Washington Post: The National Security Agency is losing its top talent at a worrisome rate as highly skilled personnel, some disillusioned with the spy service's leadership and an unpopular reorganization, take higher-paying, more flexible jobs in the private sector (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source). Since 2015, the NSA has lost several hundred hackers, engineers and data scientists, according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter. The potential impact on national security is significant, they said. Headquartered at Fort Meade in Maryland, the NSA employs a civilian workforce of about 21,000 there and is the largest producer of intelligence among the nation's 17 spy agencies. The people who have left were responsible for collecting and analyzing the intelligence that goes into the president's daily briefing. Their work also included monitoring a broad array of subjects including the Islamic State, Russian and North Korean hackers, and analyzing the intentions of foreign governments, and they were responsible for protecting the classified networks that carry such sensitive information.
Android

Snowden's New App Haven Uses Your Smartphone To Physically Guard Your Laptop (theintercept.com) 134

An anonymous reader shares a report: The NSA whistleblower and a team of collaborators have been working on a new open source Android app called Haven that you install on a spare smartphone, turning the device into a sort of sentry to watch over your laptop. Haven uses the smartphone's many sensors -- microphone, motion detector, light detector, and cameras -- to monitor the room for changes, and it logs everything it notices. The first public beta version of Haven has officially been released; it's available in the Play Store and on F-Droid, an open source app store for Android.
Government

Autocratic Governments Can Now 'Buy Their Own NSA' (wired.com) 109

Citizen Lab has been studying information controls since 2001, and this week their director -- a Toronto political science professor -- revealed how governments (including Ethiopia's) are using powerful commercial spyware. Slashdot reader mspohr shared their report: We monitored the command and control servers used in the campaign and in doing so discovered a public log file that the operators mistakenly left open... We were also able to identify the IP addresses of those who were targeted and successfully infected: a group that includes journalists, a lawyer, activists, and academics... Many of the countries in which the targets live -- the United States, Canada, and Germany, among others -- have strict wiretapping laws that make it illegal to eavesdrop without a warrant... Our team reverse-engineered the malware used in this instance, and over time this allowed us to positively identify the company whose spyware was being employed by Ethiopia: Cyberbit Solutions, a subsidiary of the Israel-based homeland security company Elbit Systems. Notably, Cyberbit is the fourth company we have identified, alongside Hacking Team, Finfisher, and NSO Group, whose products and services have been abused by autocratic regimes to target dissidents, journalists, and others...

Remarkably, by analyzing the command and control servers of the cyber espionage campaign, we were also able to monitor Cyberbit employees as they traveled the world with infected laptops that checked in to those servers, apparently demonstrating Cyberbit's products to prospective clients. Those clients include the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan's National Security Service, Zambia's Financial Intelligence Centre, and the Philippine president's Malacañang Palace. Outlining the human rights abuses associated with those government entities would fill volumes.... Governments like Ethiopia no longer depend on their own in-country advanced computer science, engineering, and mathematical capacity in order to build a globe-spanning cyber espionage operation. They can simply buy it off the shelf from a company like Cyberbit. Thanks to companies like these, an autocrat whose country has poor national infrastructure but whose regime has billions of dollars, can order up their own NSA. To wit: Elbit Systems, the parent company of Cyberbit, says it has a backlog of orders valuing $7 billion.

Reached for comment, Cyberbit said they were not responsible with what others do with their software, arguing that "governmental authorities and law enforcement agencies are responsible to ensure that they are legally authorized to use the products in their jurisdictions."
Government

Warrantless Surveillance Can Continue Even If Law Expires, Officials Say (theverge.com) 68

According to a New York Times report citing American officials, the Trump administration has decided that the National Security Agency and the FBI can lawfully keep operating their warrantless surveillance program even if Congress fails to extend the law authorizing it before an expiration date of New Year's Eve. The Verge reports: The White House believes the Patriot Act's surveillance provisions won't expire until four months into 2018. Lawyers point to a one-year certification that was granted on April 26th of last year. If that certification is taken as a legal authorization for the FISA court overall -- as White House lawyers suggest -- then Congress will have another four months to work out the details of reauthorization. There are already several proposals for Patriot Act reauthorization in the Senate, which focus the Section 702 provisions that authorize certain types of NSA surveillance. Some of the proposals would close the backdoor search loophole that allows for warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, although a recent House proposal would leave it in place. But with Congress largely focused on tax cuts and the looming debt ceiling fight, it's unlikely the differences could be reconciled before the end of the year.
Intel

Dell Begins Offering Laptops With Intel's 'Management Engine' Disabled (liliputing.com) 140

An anonymous reader quotes Liliputing.com Linux computer vendor System76 announced this week that it will roll out a firmware update to disable Intel Management Engine on laptops sold in the past few years. Purism will also disable Intel Management Engine on computers it sells moving forward. Those two computer companies are pretty small players in the multi-billion dollar PC industry. But it turns out one of the world's largest PC companies is also offering customers the option of buying a computer with Intel Management Engine disabled.

At least three Dell computers can be configured with an "Intel vPro -- ME Inoperable, Custom Order" option, although you'll have to pay a little extra for those configurations... While Intel doesn't officially provide an option to disable its Management Engine, independent security researchers have discovered methods for doing that and we're starting to see PC makers make use of those methods.

The option appears to be available on most of Dell's Latitude laptops (from the 12- to 15-inch screens), including the 7480, 5480, and 5580 and the Latitude 14 5000 Series (as well as several "Rugged" and "Rugged Extreme" models).

Dell is charging anywhere from $20.92 to $40 to disable Intel's Management Engine.
Security

New NSA Leak Exposes Red Disk, the Army's Failed Intelligence System (zdnet.com) 67

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet: The contents of a highly sensitive hard drive belonging to a division of the National Security Agency have been left online. The virtual disk image contains over 100 gigabytes of data from an Army intelligence project, codenamed "Red Disk." The disk image belongs to the US Army's Intelligence and Security Command, known as INSCOM, a division of both the Army and the NSA. The disk image was left on an unlisted but public Amazon Web Services storage server, without a password, open for anyone to download. Unprotected storage buckets have become a recurring theme in recent data leaks and exposures. In the past year alone, Accenture, Verizon, and Viacom, and several government departments, were all dinged by unsecured data.
Security

Internal Kaspersky Investigation Says NSA Worker's Computer Was Infested with Malware (vice.com) 141

A reader shares a report: The personal computer of an NSA worker who took government hacking tools and classified documents home with him was infected with a backdoor trojan, unrelated to these tools, that could have been used by criminal hackers to steal the US government files, according to a new report being released Thursday by Kaspersky Lab in response to recent allegations against the company. The Moscow-based antivirus firm, which has been accused of using its security software to improperly grab NSA hacking tools and classified documents from the NSA worker's home computer and provide them to the Russian government, says the worker had at least 120 other malicious files on his home computer in addition to the backdoor, and that the latter, which had purportedly been created by a Russian criminal hacker and sold in an underground forum, was trying to actively communicate with a malicious command-and-control server during the time Kaspersky is accused of siphoning the US government files from the worker's computer. Costin Raiu, director of the company's Global Research and Analysis Team, told Motherboard that his company's software detected and prevented that communication but there was a period of time when the worker had disabled his Kaspersky software and left his computer unprotected. Raiu says they found evidence that the NSA worker may have been infected with a second backdoor as well, though they saw no sign of it trying to communicate with an external server so they don't know if it was active on his computer.
Security

Should Private Companies Be Allowed To Hit Back At Hackers? (vice.com) 141

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The former director of the NSA and the U.S. military's cybersecurity branch doesn't believe private companies should be allowed to hit back at hackers. "If it starts a war, you can't have companies starting a war. That's an inherently governmental responsibility, and plus the chances of a company getting it wrong are fairly high," Alexander said during a meeting with a small group of reporters on Monday. During a keynote he gave at a cybersecurity conference in Manhattan, Alexander hit back at defenders of the extremely common, although rarely discussed or acknowledged, practice of revenge hacking, or hack back. During his talk, Alexander said that no company, especially those attacked by nation state hackers, should ever be allowed to try to retaliate on its own.

Using the example of Sony, which was famously hacked by North Korea in late 2014, Alexander said that if Sony had gone after the hackers, it might have prompted them to throw artillery into South Korea once they saw someone attacking them back. "We can give Sony six guys from my old place there," he said, presumably referring to the NSA, "and they'd beat up North Korea like red-headed stepchild -- no pun intended." But that's not a good idea because it could escalate a conflict, and "that's an inherently governmental responsibility. So if Sony can't defend it, the government has to." Instead, Keith argued that the U.S. government should be able to not only hit back at hackers -- as it already does -- but should also have more powers and responsibilities when it comes to stopping hackers before they even get in. Private companies should share more data with the U.S. government to prevent breaches, ha said.

Government

Kaspersky Admits To Reaping Hacking Tools From NSA Employee PC (zdnet.com) 139

Kaspersky has acknowledged that code belonging to the US National Security Agency (NSA) was lifted from a PC for analysis but insists the theft was not intentional. From a report: In October, a report from the Wall Street Journal claimed that in 2015, the Russian firm targeted an employee of the NSA known for working on the intelligence agency's hacking tools and software. The story suggested that the unnamed employee took classified materials home and operated on their PC, which was running Kaspersky's antivirus software. Once these secretive files were identified -- through an avenue carved by the antivirus -- the Russian government was then able to obtain this information. Kaspersky has denied any wrongdoing, but the allegation that the firm was working covertly with the Russian government was enough to ensure Kaspersky products were banned on federal networks. There was a number of theories relating to what actually took place -- was Kaspersky deliberately targeting NSA employees on behalf of the Kremlin, did an external threat actor exploit a zero-day vulnerability in Kaspersky's antivirus, or were the files detected and pulled by accident? According to Kaspersky, the latter is true. On Wednesday, the Moscow-based firm said in a statement that the results of a preliminary investigation have produced a rough timeline of how the incident took place. It was actually a year earlier than the WSJ believed, in 2014, that code belonging to the NSA's Equation Group was taken.
Facebook

Tech Firms Seek Washington's Prized Asset: Top-Secret Clearances (bloomberg.com) 147

Major tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter are interested in hiring workers with top-secret security clearances as they deal with foreign meddling on their platforms and come under increased risk of hacks, reports Bloomberg. From the article: In doing so, companies such as Facebook are competing with defense contractors, financial firms and the U.S. government itself. Security clearances are a rare and valued commodity, whether at a bank trying to prevent hackers from stealing credit-card data and emptying accounts or at a manufacturer building parts for a stealth fighter or missile-defense radar system. Bringing former government cyber warriors on board at companies can facilitate interactions with U.S. agencies like the NSA or CIA as well as help the firms understand how to build stronger systems on their own. "They have the tradecraft," said Ronald Sanders, a former associate director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and now director of the school of public affairs at the University of South Florida. "And the trade craft is some of the best in the world."
Government

Ask Slashdot: Should Users Uninstall Kaspersky's Antivirus Software? (slashdot.org) 313

First, here's the opinion of two former NSA cybersecurity analysts (via Consumer Reports): "It's a big deal," says Blake Darche, a former NSA cybersecurity analyst and the founder of the cybersecurity firm Area 1. "For any consumers or small businesses that are concerned about privacy or have sensitive information, I wouldn't recommend running Kaspersky." By its very nature antivirus software is an appealing tool for hackers who want to access remote computers, security experts say. Such software is designed to scan a computer comprehensively as it searches for malware, then send regular reports back to a company server. "One of the things people don't realize, by installing that tool you give [the software manufacturer] the right to pull any information that might be interesting," says Chris O'Rourke, another former NSA cybersecurity expert who is the CEO of cybersecurity firm Soteria.
But for that reason, Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky suggests any anti-virus software will be targetted by nation-state actors, and argues that for most users, "non-state criminal threats are worse. That's why Interpol this week signed a new information-sharing agreement with Kaspersky despite all the revelations in the U.S. media: The international police cooperation organization deals mainly with non-state actors, including profit-seeking hackers, rather than with the warring intelligence services."

And long-time Slashdot reader freddieb is a loyal Kaspersky user who is wondering what to do, calling the software "very effective and non-intrusive." And in addition, "Numerous recent hacks have gotten my data (Equifax, and others) so I expect I have nothing else to fear except ransomware."

Share your own informed opinions in the comments. Should users uninstall Kaspersky's antivirus software?
Government

Moscow Has Turned Kaspersky Antivirus Software Into a Global Spy Tool, Using It To Scan Computers For Secret US Data (wsj.com) 267

WSJ has a major scoop today. From a report: The Russian government used a popular antivirus software to secretly scan computers around the world for classified U.S. government documents and top-secret information, modifying the program to turn it into an espionage tool (could be paywalled), according to current and former U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter. The software, made by the Moscow-based company Kaspersky Lab, routinely scans files of computers on which it is installed looking for viruses and other malicious software. But in an adjustment to its normal operations that the officials say could only have been made with the company's knowledge, the program searched for terms as broad as "top secret," which may be written on classified government documents, as well as the classified code names of U.S. government programs, these people said. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Russian hackers used Kaspersky's software in 2015 to target a contractor working for the National Security Agency, who had removed classified materials from his workplace and put them on his home computer, which was running the program. The hackers stole highly classified information on how the NSA conducts espionage and protects against incursions by other countries, said people familiar with the matter. But the use of the Kaspersky program to spy on the U.S. is broader and more pervasive than the operation against that one individual, whose name hasn't been publicly released, current and former officials said. This link should get you around WSJ's paywall. Also read: Israeli Spies 'Watched Russian Agents Breach Kaspersky Software'
Security

Kaspersky Lab Denies Involvement in Russian Hack of NSA Contractor (theguardian.com) 76

Moscow-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab has hit back at a report in the Wall Street Journal which accused it of being involved in a Russian government hack of an NSA contractor in 2015. From a report: The paper reported on Thursday that the NSA contractor, a Vietnamese national who was working to create replacements for the hacking tools leaked by Edward Snowden, was hacked on his personal computer after he took his work home. There, the report says, the contractor's use of Kaspersky's antivirus software "alerted Russian hackers to the presence of files that may have been taken from the NSA." Once the machine was in their sights, the Russian hackers infiltrated it and obtained a significant amount of data, according to the paper. Calling the allegations "like the script of a C movie," Eugene Kaspersky, the infosec firm's founder, gave his own explanation of what might have happened. Mr Kaspersky vehemently denied that his company had played any active role in the breach, noting: "We never betray the trust that our users put into our hands. If we would do that a single time that would be immediately spotted by the industry and our business would be done." Instead, he implied that the root of the problem was that Kaspersky Lab had correctly identified the hacking tools the contractor was working on as malware -- perhaps through Kaspersky Lab's own research into the Equation Group, a "sophisticated cyber espionage platform" believed to be linked to the NSA.
Government

Russian Hackers Exploited Kaspersky Antivirus To Steal NSA Data on US Cyber Defense: WSJ (wsj.com) 223

An NSA contractor brought home highly classified documents that detailed how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks. The contractor used Kaspersky antivirus on his home computer, which hackers working for the Russian government exploited to steal the documents, the WSJ reported on Thursday (the link could be paywalled; alternative source), citing multiple people with knowledge of the matter. From the report: The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor's use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said. The theft, which hasn't been disclosed, is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a rare glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S. The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn't discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter. Having such information could give the Russian government information on how to protect its own networks, making it more difficult for the NSA to conduct its work. It also could give the Russians methods to infiltrate the networks of the U.S. and other nations, these people said. Ahead of the publication of WSJ report, Kaspersky founder Eugene Kaspersky tweeted, "New conspiracy theory, anon sources media story coming. Note we make no apologies for being aggressive in the battle against cyberthreats."
Government

NSA Targeted 106,000 Foreigners In Spy Program Up For Renewal (bloomberg.com) 41

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: The U.S. National Security Agency conducted targeted surveillance over the past year against 106,000 foreigners suspected of being involved in terrorism and other crimes, using powers granted in a controversial section of law that's set to expire at the end of this year. The number of foreigners targeted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act rose from 94,000 in fiscal year 2015, according to U.S. intelligence officials, who asked not to be identified discussing the information. The program lets agencies collect the content of emails and other communications from suspected foreign criminals operating outside the U.S., but it has become a flash point with some lawmakers for potential infringement of Americans' constitutional rights. Congress has to decide by year-end whether to renew the NSA's power under Section 702, a program that came to light when former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed classified government documents in 2013. While the intelligence officials cautioned that changes would limit its effectiveness, lawmakers including Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, have indicated they'll seek adjustments to ensure against abuses.

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