NSA revelations: the 'middle ground' everyone should be talking about

NSA revelations: the ‘middle ground’ everyone should be talking about | Matt Blaze

As if there wasn’t already enough NSA mass surveillance to worry about, last week we got a peek at the agency’s arsenal of tools for exploiting the hardware and software of its targets. They’re best described as a veritable SpyMall catalog of sophisticated concealed gadgets and surreptitious software “implants”, each sneakier than the last in its ability to compromise and extract private data from the computers and phones on which they’re installed. If you still thought there was anywhere in the electronic world to hide after you’re in their sights, this should be enough to disabuse you of that notion once and for all.
This lies atop six months of news of the myriad ways our metadata and, in some cases, our content, is being routinely collected and analyzed, cloud services and communications providers being compromised, and security standards that should be protecting us being sabotaged. The sane reaction seems to lie somewhere between paranoia and despair.
So we have to take small comforts where we can find them. And, paradoxically as it may seem, at least two of the most egregious revelations might actually hold out a glimmer of hope for privacy going forward.
First, we now have evidence, albeit indirect, that the NSA might not have the cryptologic superpowers that some feared they might. In particular, they have had to resort to outright sabotage of a range of security standards and systems that give them trouble. This suggests that a more robust (and un-sabotaged) infrastructure – secured by proper cryptography and without hidden backdoors or so-called “lawful intercept” interfaces – can make mass surveillance genuinely difficult. (And not just more difficult for the NSA. More difficult for other, perhaps less benevolent, nations’ intelligence services as well.) So perhaps we stand a chance after all, at least if we’re not being individually targeted.
Which brings us to the second encouraging bit of news, which is that if you are being individually targeted, you really don’t stand a chance. The NSA’s tools are very sharp indeed, even in the presence of communications networks that are well hardened against eavesdropping. How can this be good news? It isn’t if you’re a target, to be sure. But it means that there is no good reason to give in to demands that we weaken cryptography, put backdoors in communications networks, or otherwise make the infrastructure we depend on be more “wiretap friendly”. The NSA will still be able to do its job, and the sun need not set on targeted intelligence gathering.

My 2014 resolution: stop my country from becoming a surveillance state

My 2014 resolution: stop my country from becoming a surveillance state by Dan Gillmore

Our New Year’s resolutions tend to be well-meaning and hard to keep. That’s because we resolve to change our lives in fundamental ways – get fit, etc. But inertia and habit are the enemy of change, and we usually fall back into old patterns. It’s human nature.
Despite all that, I’ve made a resolution for 2014. It is to do whatever I can to reverse my country’s trajectory toward being a surveillance state, and to push as hard as possible for a truly open internet.
I realize I can’t do much on my own, and hope many others, especially journalists, will join in. This year may be pivotal; if we don’t make progress, or worse, lose ground, it may be too late.
Thanks to whistleblowers, especially Edward Snowden, and the journalists who’ve reported on what they’ve been shown, the citizens of many countries have a far better idea than before about the extent to which security and law enforcement services have invaded their lives. We’ve learned about the stunning capabilities of the National Security Agency and others to create a real-life Panopticon, spying on and recording everything we say and do. We’ve learned that they abuse their powers – because that is also human nature – and lie incessantly, even to the people who are supposed to keep them in check. And we’ve learned that the technology industry is, if not in bed with the surveillance state, its chief arms dealer.

Researchers warn of new, meaner ransomware with unbreakable crypto

Researchers warn of new, meaner ransomware with unbreakable crypto
Move over, CryptoLocker. Criminals are talking up more advanced PowerLocker.
By Dan Goodin
Jan 6 2014
Security researchers have uncovered evidence of a new piece of malware that may be able to take gigabytes’ worth of data hostage unless end users pay a ransom.
Discussions of the new malware, alternately dubbed PrisonLocker and PowerLocker, have been occurring on underground crime forums since November, according to ablog post published Friday by Malware Must Die, a group of researchers dedicated to fighting online crime. The malware appears to be inspired by CryptoLocker, the malicious software that wreaked havoc in October when it used uncrackable encryption to lock up victims’ computer files until they paid hundreds of dollars for the decryption key.
PowerLocker could prove an even more potent threat because it would be sold in underground forums as a DIY malware kit to anyone who can afford the $100 for a license, Friday’s post warned. CryptoLocker, by contrast, was custom built for use by a single crime gang. What’s more, PowerLocker might also offer several advanced features, including the ability to disable the task manager, registry editor, and other administration functions built into the Windows operating system. Screen shots and online discussions also indicate the newer malware may contain protections that prevent it from being reverse engineered when run on virtual machines.
PowerLocker encrypts files using keys based on the Blowfish algorithm. Each key is then encrypted to a file that can only be unlocked by a 2048-bit private RSA key. The Malware Must Die researchers said they had been monitoring the discussions for the past few months. The possibility of a new crypto-based ransomware threat comes as developers continue to make improvements to the older CryptoLocker title. Late last month, for instance, researchers at antivirus provider Trend Micro said newer versions gave the CryptoLocker self-replicating abilities that allowed it to spread through USB thumb drives.

Techbrats Do Not Represent Technology

Techbrats Goldberg, Shih and Gopman Do Not Represent Technology

In 20 or 30 years, what will we look back on and say “That was the issue of our time?”
I ask hyper-intelligent people this question from time to time, and the answers are frequently similar: environment, equality, employment and wage disparity are common.
I believe employment and wage disparity are the critical issues of our time.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly and glaringly than in San Francisco. Rents in the city have skyrocketed and social unrest between the haves and have-nots has reached a boiling point. (Most recently, we saw protesters throwing a rock through the window of one of Google’s luxurious private buses.)
It’s hard for people not to hate technologists when faced with the absolute loathsomeness of three now-infamous industry executives: Peter Shih, Greg Gopman and Bryan Goldberg.
In three separate blog posts over the past year, these spoiled techbrats have shown the absolute worst qualities of the elite: a lack of empathy and class, combined with horrible entitlement — and the absolute inability to write.
Peter Shih, a startup founder, wrote that San Francisco is a city with a “pathetic excuse for a public transportation system,” where ‘I pay 80% of my salary to live down the street from crackheads and meth addicts” and which is home to “some of the craziest homeless people I have ever seen in my life” (his solution: “just hand them a handle of vodka and a pack of cigarettes, it’ll save everyone some trouble.”)
Link: http://goo.gl/nT5yJC
His bile was followed by Gopman’s post which claimed:
“The difference [between SF and elsewhere] is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay…
You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different…”
Link: http://goo.gl/kEHAcj
Not to be outdone, millionaire Goldberg — the most successful of all these executives, having sold the widely-regarded-as-spam site Bleacher Report — did a ‘satirical piece’ that showed a complete lack of awareness, intelligence or ability to compose satire. Salon dubbed it “rock bottom” in “tech’s culture war.”
Link: http://goo.gl/j18NDq
[ Click here to tweet this editorial: http://ctt.ec/e2Juq ]
Where to begin.
First, all three of these executives should be thankful they were born in a time when the ability to write code and understand technology was so absurdly rewarded as compared to the other crucial work of the world. Important things like teaching children to be productive citizens, running into burning buildings, protecting citizens from crime, doing CPR on people in cardiac arrest, and going to war and risking having your legs blown off by an IED.
In another age, say one where the ability to use a sword was the most in demand skill, these specimens wouldn’t have had the resolve to make it out of adolescence alive.
Second, if you are lucky enough to be absurdly rewarded as compared to the rest of society, a solid default position is to shut up and enjoy your epic rewards — not to taunt and abuse those less fortunate than yourself.
Third, if you have been delightfully rewarded for building websites — websites!!! — as opposed to digging ditches 10 hours a day, six days a week, perhaps you should look at those less fortunate than yourself with compassion and — gasp! — do something to help them?
Fourth, if your ability to write tops out at the Christmas card level, perhaps it would be wise for you to hone your skills before tackling the most sensitive and pressing issues of our time?
As my Tae Kwon Do teacher told me in me in my developing years, when I was prone to speak first and think second, “an empty can makes the most noise.”
These noisy individuals do not represent the technology industry within which I’ve built my career. No, the technologists of true success and merit develop and execute strategies to make society more just, fair and joyful for all.
Bill Gates gave up three or four delightful decades of working on building one of the great technology empires of all time to do things like eradicate malaria, provide clean drinking water and reinvent the condom so people would use them more often.
Mark Cuban dedicates his time to investing in startups that will never return even a small fraction of his wealth, while silently helping wounded soldiers and the poor (the details of which are largely unreported).
Elon Musk risked his entire fortune — and pushed himself personally to the brink — to get us off carbon and he’s still driving himself at an inhuman pace to “back up Earth” on another planet. (I’ve encouraged him to pace himself many times, but it’s just not how he is wired.)
Jeff Skoll has produced media — at great loss and risk at times — in order to expand people’s consciousness about important issues. Fast Food Nation, An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc, Darfur Now, and his new TV network, Pivot, which aims to package up serious issues for millennials.
The list of technologists doing great things for humanity is endless, but the media is obsessing over these pathetic, visionless grandstanders– and I don’t blame them. This level of stupidity and vileness is editorial manna from above. How could the media not focus in on it?
A society can best be judged by how the most privileged regard and treat the most vulnerable and weak.
I have a challenge for these three individuals: invest in HandUp, a wonderful startup trying to actually help the homeless and distraught individuals in San francisco (and eventually beyond, I’m sure). If you each invest $10,000 in Handup I will match each of you. (Note: I’m already an investor, having invested on the spot during my talk with Rose: http://youtu.be/h9PSGHg2Vl0).
more: http://angel.co/handup
[ Sidenote: It’s a B (as in ‘benefit)’ corporation similar to stuff like Tom’s Shoes or Ben & Jerry’s, which aims to build a sustainable business by making a platform to help organizations focused on the homeless and poor. It’s “kickstarter for the homeless” and I say that with pride, not as a joke. Note: any profit I make from this investment I will donate to the homeless. ]
It takes only a cursory amount of reading — start with the mayor’s offices multiyear study on the cities ~6,000 homeless — to understand that a large percentage of the homeless are suffering from depression, mental illness, substance abuse and/or the elimination of their jobs.
And keep in mind that the “disruption” that is so lauded in our industry is largely one that removes inefficiencies, frequently defined as a “humans” working in “jobs.”
I’d argue that society’s issues around job loss are largely attributable to the massive change brought on by the technology we are building, and the wealth we are creating for a small subset of society.
This fact is indisputable and I believe it puts the responsibility for the weakest in our society on us — the technologists and investors — who not by happenstance are benefiting from this change.
On a strictly pragmatic basis, if you’re rich and privileged in our violently changing society, ask yourself if the last couple of bitcoins or homes you own are worth having a brick thrown through the window of bus you’re riding on.
It is completely possible that in the next 10 years, the streets of San Francisco and Manhattan will be filled with riots and protests by disenfranchised individuals–oh wait, that was the last three years: http://youtu.be/8yXSC0U9M6c
What is the point of this ever expanding “long boom” if we leave so many behind?
What a shallow victory we will have wrought if so many suffer so greatly while we benefit so exorbitantly.
all the best,
Jason Calacanis
PS – Sorry to have not written the followup piece to #googlewinseverything, but I felt that this piece needed to come now–before another ‘techbro’ decides the world needs to know how stupid and insensitive they are. Second, I’m on deadline for the Jan. 23rd launch ofwww.inside.com, as well as the LAUNCH Hackathon (Feb 21-23) & LAUNCH Festival on Feb. 24-26th (http://festival.launch.co).
PPS – If I get a moment I’ll follow up on this piece by expanding the final two points–or perhaps someone with the ability to write like @paulcarr, @lons, @jasonpontin, @karaswisher, @hblodget, etc. could take on these two concepts:
a) What responsibility does the Tech Industry specifically have to the people it has made redundant?
b) Wouldn’t it be a better world for everyone if we used just a small portion of the massive profits being made to ensure that everyone had a place to live and eat, so our cities weren’t overrun with poverty, hunger and desperation, making American cities like Los Angeles essentially Third World nations?
Read this on the LAUNCH Blog: http://blog.launch.co/blog/techbrats-goldberg-shih-and-gopman-do-not-represent-technolo.html