Facial Scanning Is Making Gains in Surveillance

Facial Scanning Is Making Gains in Surveillance

 

The New York Times
by Charlie Savage
August 21, 2013

 

WASHINGTON —

The federal government is making progress on developing a surveillance system that would pair computers with video cameras to scan crowds and automatically identify people by their faces, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with researchers working on the project.

The Department of Homeland Security tested a crowd-scanning project called the Biometric Optical Surveillance System — or BOSS — last fall after two years of government-financed development. Although the system is not ready for use, researchers say they are making significant advances. That alarms privacy advocates, who say that now is the time for the government to establish oversight rules and limits on how it will someday be used.

Read the full article at… Direct Link:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/21/us/facial-scanning-is-making-gains-in-surveillance.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130821

FBI spooks use MALWARE to spy on suspects’ Android mobes – report

FBI spooks use MALWARE to spy on suspects’ Android mobes – report

Spear-phishing: It’s not just for the bad guys

The Register / UK
by Bill Ray
August 2, 2013

 

FBI spooks use MALWARE to spy on suspects' Android mobes - report
FBI spooks use MALWARE to spy on suspects’ Android mobes – report

 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is using mobile malware to infect, and control, suspects’ Android handsets, allowing it to record nearby sounds and copy data without physical access to the devices.

That’s according to “former officers” interviewed by the Wall Street Journal ahead of privacy advocate Christopher Soghoian’s presentation at hacker-conflab Black Hat later today.

The FBI’s Remote Operations Unit has been listening in to desktop computers for years, explains the paper, but mobile phones are a relatively new target.

It would never work with tech-savvy suspects, though: suspects still need to infect themselves with the malware by clicking a dodgy link or opening the wrong attachment. This is why computer hackers are never targeted this way – they might notice and publicise the technique, said the “former officers”, who noted that in other cases it had proved hugely valuable.

Such actions do require judicial oversight, but if one is recording activities rather than communications, the level of authorisation needed is much reduced. A US judge is apparently more likely to approve reaching out electronically into a suspect’s hardware than a traditional wiretap, as the latter is considered a greater intrusion into their privacy.

Gaining control of that hardware still requires a hole to crawl through; ideally a zero-day exploit of which the platform manufacturer is unaware.

The WSJ cites UK-based lawful spook spyware supplier Gamma International as selling such exploits to the Feds. The company was recently in the news after allegations that it was also supplying dodgy governments with kit – allegedly including malware disguised as the Firefox browser.

Given the convergence of mobile and desktop, it’s no surprise to see desktop techniques being applied to mobile phone platforms by both hackers and law enforcement agencies.

The usual techniques of not opening unknown attachments or unsigned downloads should protect you against the FBI, just as it would against any spear-phishing attempt. But then again, if you know that, they probably wouldn’t try using it against you.

 

Direct Link:  http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/02/fbi_staff_admit_hacking_android/

Feds Are Suspects in New Malware That Attacks Tor Anonymity

Feds Are Suspects in New Malware That Attacks Tor Anonymity

 

WIRED / Threat Level
by Kevin Poulsen
August 5, 2013

Feds Are Suspects in New Malware That Attacks Tor Anonymity
Feds Are Suspects in New Malware That Attacks Tor Anonymity (Photo: Andrewfhart / Flickr)

 

Security researchers tonight are poring over a piece of malicious software that takes advantage of a Firefox security vulnerability to identify some users of the privacy-protecting Tor anonymity network.

The malware showed up Sunday morning on multiple websites hosted by the anonymous hosting company Freedom Hosting. That would normally be considered a blatantly criminal “drive-by” hack attack, but nobody’s calling in the FBI this time. The FBI is the prime suspect.

“It just sends identifying information to some IP in Reston, Virginia,” says reverse-engineer Vlad Tsyrklevich. “It’s pretty clear that it’s FBI or it’s some other law enforcement agency that’s U.S.-based.”

If Tsrklevich and other researchers are right, the code is likely the first sample captured in the wild of the FBI’s “computer and internet protocol address verifier,” or CIPAV, the law enforcement spyware first reported by WIRED in 2007.

Court documents and FBI files released under the FOIA have described the CIPAV as software the FBI can deliver through a browser exploit to gather information from the target’s machine and send it to an FBI server in Virginia. The FBI has been using the CIPAV since 2002 against hackers, online sexual predators, extortionists, and others, primarily to identify suspects who are disguising their location using proxy servers or anonymity services, like Tor.

The code has been used sparingly in the past, which kept it from leaking out and being analyzed or added to anti-virus databases.

The broad Freedom Hosting deployment of the malware coincides with the arrest of Eric Eoin Marques in Ireland on Thursday on an U.S. extradition request. The Irish Independent reports that Marques is wanted for distributing child pornography in a federal case filed in Maryland, and quotes an FBI special agent describing Marques as “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet.”

Freedom Hosting has long been notorious for allowing child porn to live on its servers. In 2011, the hactivist collective Anonymous singled out Freedom Hosting for denial-of-service attacks after allegedly finding the firm hosted 95 percent of the child porn hidden services on the Tor network.

Freedom Hosting is a provider of turnkey “Tor hidden service” sites — special sites, with addresses ending in .onion — that hide their geographic location behind layers of routing, and can be reached only over the Tor anonymity network.

Tor hidden services are ideal for websites that need to evade surveillance or protect users’ privacy to an extraordinary degree – which can include human rights groups and journalists. But it also naturally appeals to serious criminal elements.

Shortly after Marques’ arrest last week, all of the hidden service sites hosted by Freedom Hosting began displaying a “Down for Maintenance” message. That included websites that had nothing to do with child pornography, such as the secure email provider TorMail.

Some visitors looking at the source code of the maintenance page realized that it included a hidden iframe tag that loaded a mysterious clump of Javascript code from a Verizon Business internet address located in Virginia.

By midday Sunday, the code was being circulated and dissected all over the net. Mozilla confirmed the code exploits a critical memory management vulnerability in Firefox that was publicly reported on June 25, and is fixed in the latest version of the browser.

Though many older revisions of Firefox are vulnerable to that bug, the malware only targets Firefox 17 ESR, the version of Firefox that forms the basis of the Tor Browser Bundle – the easiest, most user-friendly package for using the Tor anonymity network.

“The malware payload could be trying to exploit potential bugs in Firefox 17 ESR, on which our Tor Browser is based,” the non-profit Tor Project wrote in a blog post Sunday. “We’re investigating these bugs and will fix them if we can.”

The inevitable conclusion is that the malware is designed specifically to attack the Tor browser. The strongest clue that the culprit is the FBI, beyond the circumstantial timing of Marques’ arrest, is that the malware does nothing but identify the target.

 

The payload for the Tor Browser Bundle malware is hidden in a variable called “magneto”.
The payload for the Tor Browser Bundle malware is hidden in a variable called “magneto”.

The heart of the malicious Javascript is a tiny Windows executable hidden in a variable named “Magneto.” A traditional virus would use that executable to download and install a full-featured backdoor, so the hacker could come in later and steal passwords, enlist the computer in a DDoS botnet, and generally do all the other nasty things that happen to a hacked Windows box.

But the Magneto code doesn’t download anything. It looks up the victim’s MAC address — a unique hardware identifier for the computer’s network or Wi-Fi card — and the victim’s Windows hostname. Then it sends it to the Virginia server, outside of Tor, to expose the user’s real IP address, and coded as a standard HTTP web request.

“The attackers spent a reasonable amount of time writing a reliable exploit, and a fairly customized payload, and it doesn’t allow them to download a backdoor or conduct any secondary activity,” says Tsyrklevich, who reverse-engineered the Magneto code.

The malware also sends, at the same time, a serial number that likely ties the target to his or her visit to the hacked Freedom Hosting-hosted website.

In short, Magneto reads like the x86 machine code embodiment of a carefully crafted court order authorizing an agency to blindly trespass into the personal computers of a large number of people, but for the limited purpose of identifying them.

But plenty of questions remain. For one, now that there’s a sample of the code, will anti-virus companies start detecting it?

Update 8.5.13 12:50:  According to Domaintools, the malware’s command-and-control IP address in Virginia is allocated to Science Applications International Corporation. Based in McLean, Virginia, SAIC is a major technology contractor for defense and intelligence agencies, including the FBI. I have a call in to the firm.

13:50  Tor Browser Bundle users who installed or manually updated after June 26 are safe from the exploit, according to the Tor Project’s new security advisory on the hack.

14:30:  SAIC has no comment.

15:10:  There are incorrect press reports circulating that the command-and-control IP address belongs to the NSA. Those reports are based on a misreading of domain name resolution records. The NSA’s public website, NSA.gov, is served by the same upstream Verizon network as the Tor malware command-and-control server, but that network handles tons of government agencies and contractors in the Washington DC area.

8.6.13 17:10:  SAIC’s link to the IP addresses may be an error in Domaintools’ records. The official IP allocation records maintained by the American Registry for Internet Numbers show the two Magneto-related addresses are not part of SAIC’s publicly-listed allocation. They’re part of a ghost block of eight IP addresses that have no organization listed. Those addresses trace no further than the Verizon Business data center in Ashburn, Virginia, 20 miles northwest of the Capital Beltway. (Hat tip: Michael Tigas)
Direct Link:  http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/08/freedom-hosting/

 

The top secret rules that allow NSA to use US data without a warrant

The top secret rules that allow NSA to use US data without a warrant

Fisa court submissions show broad scope of procedures governing NSA’s surveillance of Americans’ communication

The Guardian / UK
by Glenn Greenwald  & James Ball
June 20, 2013

The documents show that discretion as to who is actually targeted lies directly with the NSA's analysts. (Photograph: Martin Rogers/Workbook Stock/Getty)
The documents show that discretion as to who is actually targeted lies directly with the NSA’s analysts. (Photograph: Martin Rogers/Workbook Stock/Getty)

Document one: procedures used by NSA to target non-US persons

Document two: procedures used by NSA to minimise data collected from US persons

Top secret documents submitted to the court that oversees surveillance by US intelligence agencies show the judges have signed off on broad orders which allow the NSA to make use of information “inadvertently” collected from domestic US communications without a warrant.

The Guardian is publishing in full two documents submitted to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the Fisa court), signed by Attorney General Eric Holder and stamped 29 July 2009. They detail the procedures the NSA is required to follow to target “non-US persons” under its foreign intelligence powers and what the agency does to minimize data collected on US citizens and residents in the course of that surveillance.

The documents show that even under authorities governing the collection of foreign intelligence from foreign targets, US communications can still be collected, retained and used.

The procedures cover only part of the NSA’s surveillance of domestic US communications. The bulk collection of domestic call records, as first revealed by the Guardian earlier this month, takes place under rolling court orders issued on the basis of a legal interpretation of a different authority, section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The Fisa court’s oversight role has been referenced many times by Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials as they have sought to reassure the public about surveillance, but the procedures approved by the court have never before been publicly disclosed.

The top secret documents published today detail the circumstances in which data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection.

 

However, alongside those provisions, the Fisa court-approved policies allow the NSA to:

• Keep data that could potentially contain details of US persons for up to five years;

• Retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity;

• Preserve “foreign intelligence information” contained within attorney-client communications;

• Access the content of communications gathered from “U.S. based machine[s]” or phone numbers in order to establish if targets are located in the US, for the purposes of ceasing further surveillance.

 

The broad scope of the court orders, and the nature of the procedures set out in the documents, appear to clash with assurances from President Obama and senior intelligence officials that the NSA could not access Americans’ call or email information without warrants.

The documents also show that discretion as to who is actually targeted under the NSA’s foreign surveillance powers lies directly with its own analysts, without recourse to courts or superiors – though a percentage of targeting decisions are reviewed by internal audit teams on a regular basis.

Since the Guardian first revealed the extent of the NSA’s collection of US communications, there have been repeated calls for the legal basis of the programs to be released. On Thursday, two US congressmen introduced a bill compelling the Obama administration to declassify the secret legal justifications for NSA surveillance.

The disclosure bill, sponsored by Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, and Todd Rokita, an Indiana Republican, is a complement to one proposed in the Senate last week. It would “increase the transparency of the Fisa Court and the state of the law in this area,” Schiff told the Guardian. “It would give the public a better understanding of the safeguards, as well as the scope of these programs.”

Section 702 of the Fisa Amendments Act (FAA), which was renewed for five years last December, is the authority under which the NSA is allowed to collect large-scale data, including foreign communications and also communications between the US and other countries, provided the target is overseas.

FAA warrants are issued by the Fisa court for up to 12 months at a time, and authorise the collection of bulk information – some of which can include communications of US citizens, or people inside the US. To intentionally target either of those groups requires an individual warrant.

 

One-paragraph order

One such warrant seen by the Guardian shows that they do not contain detailed legal rulings or explanation. Instead, the one-paragraph order, signed by a Fisa court judge in 2010, declares that the procedures submitted by the attorney general on behalf of the NSA are consistent with US law and the fourth amendment.

Those procedures state that the “NSA determines whether a person is a non-United States person reasonably believed to be outside the United States in light of the totality of the circumstances based on the information available with respect to that person, including information concerning the communications facility or facilities used by that person”.

It includes information that the NSA analyst uses to make this determination – including IP addresses, statements made by the potential target, and other information in the NSA databases, which can include public information and data collected by other agencies.

Where the NSA has no specific information on a person’s location, analysts are free to presume they are overseas, the document continues.

“In the absence of specific information regarding whether a target is a United States person,” it states “a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States or whose location is not known will be presumed to be a non-United States person unless such person can be positively identified as a United States person.”

If it later appears that a target is in fact located in the US, analysts are permitted to look at the content of messages, or listen to phone calls, to establish if this is indeed the case.

Referring to steps taken to prevent intentional collection of telephone content of those inside the US, the document states: “NSA analysts may analyze content for indications that a foreign target has entered or intends to enter the United States. Such content analysis will be conducted according to analytic and intelligence requirements and priorities.”

Details set out in the “minimization procedures”, regularly referred to in House and Senate hearings, as well as public statements in recent weeks, also raise questions as to the extent of monitoring of US citizens and residents.

NSA minimization procedures signed by Holder in 2009 set out that once a target is confirmed to be within the US, interception must stop immediately. However, these circumstances do not apply to large-scale data where the NSA claims it is unable to filter US communications from non-US ones.

The NSA is empowered to retain data for up to five years and the policy states “communications which may be retained include electronic communications acquired because of limitations on the NSA’s ability to filter communications”.

Even if upon examination a communication is found to be domestic – entirely within the US – the NSA can appeal to its director to keep what it has found if it contains “significant foreign intelligence information”, “evidence of a crime”, “technical data base information” (such as encrypted communications), or “information pertaining to a threat of serious harm to life or property”.

Domestic communications containing none of the above must be destroyed. Communications in which one party was outside the US, but the other is a US-person, are permitted for retention under FAA rules.

The minimization procedure adds that these can be disseminated to other agencies or friendly governments if the US person is anonymised, or including the US person’s identity under certain criteria.

 

 Holder's 'minimization procedure' says once a target is confirmed to be in the US, interception of communication must stop. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images )
Holder’s ‘minimization procedure’ says once a target is confirmed to be in the US, interception of communication must stop. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images )

 

A separate section of the same document notes that as soon as any intercepted communications are determined to have been between someone under US criminal indictment and their attorney, surveillance must stop. However, the material collected can be retained, if it is useful, though in a segregated database:

“The relevant portion of the communication containing that conversation will be segregated and the National Security Division of the Department of Justice will be notified so that appropriate procedures may be established to protect such communications from review or use in any criminal prosecution, while preserving foreign intelligence information contained therein,” the document states.

In practice, much of the decision-making appears to lie with NSA analysts, rather than the Fisa court or senior officials.

A transcript of a 2008 briefing on FAA from the NSA’s general counsel sets out how much discretion NSA analysts possess when it comes to the specifics of targeting, and making decisions on who they believe is a non-US person. Referring to a situation where there has been a suggestion a target is within the US.

“Once again, the standard here is a reasonable belief that your target is outside the United States. What does that mean when you get information that might lead you to believe the contrary? It means you can’t ignore it. You can’t turn a blind eye to somebody saying: ‘Hey, I think so and so is in the United States.’ You can’t ignore that. Does it mean you have to completely turn off collection the minute you hear that? No, it means you have to do some sort of investigation: ‘Is that guy right? Is my target here?” he says.

“But, if everything else you have says ‘no’ (he talked yesterday, I saw him on TV yesterday, even, depending on the target, he was in Baghdad) you can still continue targeting but you have to keep that in mind. You can’t put it aside. You have to investigate it and, once again, with that new information in mind, what is your reasonable belief about your target’s location?”

The broad nature of the court’s oversight role, and the discretion given to NSA analysts, sheds light on responses from the administration and internet companies to the Guardian’s disclosure of the PRISM program. They have stated that the content of online communications is turned over to the NSA only pursuant to a court order. But except when a US citizen is specifically targeted, the court orders used by the NSA to obtain that information as part of Prism are these general FAA orders, not individualized warrants specific to any individual.

Once armed with these general orders, the NSA is empowered to compel telephone and internet companies to turn over to it the communications of any individual identified by the NSA. The Fisa court plays no role in the selection of those individuals, nor does it monitor who is selected by the NSA.

The NSA’s ability to collect and retain the communications of people in the US, even without a warrant, has fuelled congressional demands for an estimate of how many Americans have been caught up in surveillance.

Two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall – both members of the Senate intelligence committee – have been seeking this information since 2011, but senior White House and intelligence officials have repeatedly insisted that the agency is unable to gather such statistics.

 
Direct Link:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/20/fisa-court-nsa-without-warrant