The FBI Can Break Encryption

(By Bill Blunden via Dissident Voice)

Slide showing how the NSA performs <a href="">man-in-the-middle attacks</a> on SSL/TLS encrypted web traffic  (Photograph: Guardian)
Leaked slide showing how the NSA performs man-in-the-middle attacks on SSL/TLS encrypted web traffic (click to enlarge)Photo credit: Guardian 

[…] recent history is chock full of instances where the FBI employed malware like Magic Lantern and CIPAV to foil encryption and identify people using encryption-based anonymity software like Tor. If it’s expedient, the FBI will go so far as to impersonate a media outlet to fool suspects into infecting their own machines. It would seem that crooks aren’t the only attackers who wield social engineering techniques.

In fact, the FBI has gotten so adept at hacking computers, utilizing what are referred to internally as Network Investigative Techniques, that the FBI wants to change the law to reflect this. The Guardian reports on how the FBI is asking the U.S. Advisory Committee on Rules and Criminal Procedure to move the legal goal posts, so to speak:

The amendment [proposed by the FBI] inserts a clause that would allow a judge to issue warrants to gain ‘remote access’ to computers ‘located within or outside that district’ (emphasis added) in cases in which the ‘district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means’. The expanded powers to stray across district boundaries would apply to any criminal investigation, not just to terrorist cases as at present.

In other words the FBI wants to be able to hack into a computer when its exact location is shrouded by anonymity software. Once they compromise the targeted machine it’s pretty straightforward to install a software implant (i.e. malware) and exfiltrate whatever user data they want, including encryption passwords.

If encryption is really the impediment that director Comey makes it out to be, then why is the FBI so keen to amend the rules in a manner which implies that they can sidestep it? In the parlance of poker this is a “tell.”

As a developer who has built malicious software designed to undermine security tools I can attest that there is a whole burgeoning industry which prays on naïve illusions of security. Companies like Hacking Team have found a lucrative niche offering products to the highest bidder that compromise security and… a drumroll please… defeat encryption.

There’s a moral to this story. Cryptome’s John Young prudently observes:

Protections of promises of encryption, proxy use, Tor-like anonymity and ‘military-grade’ comsec technology are magic acts — ELINT, SIGINT and COMINT always prevail over comsec. The most widely trusted and promoted systems are the most likely to be penetrated, exploited, spied upon, successfully attacked, covertly compromised with faults hidden by promoters, operators, competitors, compromisers and attackers all of whom warn against the others while mutually benefiting from continuous alarms about security and privacy.

When someone promises you turnkey anonymity and failsafe protection from spies, make like that guy on The Walking Dead and reach for your crossbow. Mass surveillance is a vivid expression of raw power and control. Hence what ails society is fundamentally a political problem, with economic and technical facets, such that safeguarding civil liberties on the Internet will take a lot more than just the right app.

Read full article here.

How the NSA installs backdoors in US-made Internet routers

For years, the US government loudly warned the world that Chinese routers and other internet devices pose a “threat” because they are built with backdoor surveillance functionality that gives the Chinese government the ability to spy on anyone using them. Yet what the NSA’s documents show is that Americans have been engaged in precisely the activity that the US accused the Chinese of doing. […]

A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The NSA routinely receives – or intercepts – routers, servers and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers.

The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users. The document gleefully observes that some “SIGINT tradecraft … is very hands-on (literally!)”.

Eventually, the implanted device connects back to the NSA. The report continues: “In one recent case, after several months a beacon implanted through supply-chain interdiction called back to the NSA covert infrastructure. This call back provided us access to further exploit the device and survey the network.” […]

— Glenn Greenwald, “How the NSA tampers with US internet routers“. The Guardian

NSA / GCHQ covert online propaganda teams

“Documents leaked by the US National Security Agency whistleblower and published by NBC news Friday detail strategies used by the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group (JTRIG), a spy unit whose existence has been classified, to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” adversaries. The slides [such as the one pictured here], which were used in 2010 and 2012, showed that the JTRIG completed their mission by “discrediting” them via misinformation and hacking their communications.

The leak details two primary methods of attack, cyber operations and propaganda efforts. The propaganda missions include mass messaging and the manipulation of stories on social media platforms like Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube.”


Computer network information operations slide from NSA talking about propaganda, deception, and pushing news stories via social media to manipulate the public
Note that in their own words they are saying that they are trying to deceive the public, spread propaganda, and psychologically manipulate people on a massive scale. This is not a “conspiracy theory”. This is how they talk about what they are doing in private.
deception, effects, information operations, gchq, covert propaganda
What they are talking about here is a massive program of social engineering, based on deception, where they spread misinformation in the hopes of “making something happen in the real world”. These people are not only liars and manipulators, but they are doing so consciously and deliberately.

You might also want to take a look at the following sites:

* Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media (Guardian, March 2011)

Israeli students to get $2,000 to spread state propaganda on Facebook (Electronic Intifada, January 2012)

Former NSA chief Michael Hayden calls Snowden a traitor in Microsoft-sponsored interview

Former NSA director, calling Snowden a traitor, in a CBS News propaganda message sponsored by Microsoft (which is easily the NSA’s most important corporate collaborator, allowing exploits at the OS level for over 90% of desktop users).

Michael Hayden Calls Edward Snowden Traitor on CBS sponsored by Microsoft (Twitter)

See also:

* Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages (Glen Greenwald et al., The Guardian,, 11 July 2013)

* To Protect and Infect: The Militarization of the Internet (Jacob Applebaum, 30c3)

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit (Der Spiegel)

Via Der Spiegel:

‘[…] The Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO […] is the NSA’s top operative unit — something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO’s area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO’s disposal have become — and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.

National Security Agency complex in San Antonio, Texas, is one of the central offices of the intelligence agency's Tailored Access Operations
This National Security Agency complex in San Antonio, Texas, located in a former Sony chip factory, is one of the central offices of the intelligence agency’s Tailored Access Operations, the NSA’s top operative unit.

The unit is “akin to the wunderkind of the US intelligence community,” says Matthew Aid, a historian who specializes in the history of the NSA. “Getting the ungettable” is the NSA’s own description of its duties. “It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of intelligence that is important,” one former TAO chief wrote, describing her work in a document. The paper seen by SPIEGEL quotes the former senior official stating that TAO has contributed “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen.” The unit, it goes on, has “access to our very hardest targets.”

Defining the future of her unit at the time, she wrote that TAO “needs to continue to grow and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations,” and that it must “support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations.” To succeed in this, she wrote, TAO would have to acquire “pervasive, persistent access on the global network.” An internal description of TAO’s responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit’s tasks. In other words, the NSA’s hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries — nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.

Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry’s BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. Achieving this last goal required a “sustained TAO operation,” one document states.

This TAO unit is born of the Internet — created in 1997, a time when not even 2 percent of the world’s population had Internet access and no one had yet thought of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. From the time the first TAO employees moved into offices at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the unit was housed in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency. Their task was clear from the beginning — to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.

To do this, the NSA needed a new kind of employee. The TAO workers authorized to access the special, secure floor on which the unit is located are for the most part considerably younger than the average NSA staff. Their job is breaking into, manipulating and exploiting computer networks, making them hackers and civil servants in one. Many resemble geeks — and act the part too.

Indeed, it is from these very circles that the NSA recruits new hires for its Tailored Access Operations unit. In recent years, NSA Director Keith Alexander has made several appearances at major hacker conferences in the United States. Sometimes, Alexander wears his military uniform, but at others, he even dons jeans and a t-shirt in his effort to court trust and a new generation of employees. […]


Read the full article at: Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit (Der Spiegel, 29 December 2013)

NSA intercepting laptops purchased online to install spy malware

COTTONMOUTH-I ANT (NSA USB bug) -- Applebaum 30c3 slide
Leaked NSA slide for the COTTONMOUTH-I program, shown at Jacob Applebaum’s presentation “To Protect and Infect, Pt. 2: The Militarization of the Internet” at the 30c3 conference.

“[…] the NSA, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, routinely and secretly intercepts shipping deliveries for laptops or other computer accessories in order to implant bugs before they reach their destinations. According to Der Spiegel, the NSA’s TAO group is able to divert shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” in a method called interdiction, where agents load malware onto the electronics or install malicious hardware that can give US intelligence agencies remote access.

While the report does not indicate the scope of the program, or who the NSA is targeting with such wiretaps, it’s a unique look at the agency’s collaborative efforts with the broader intelligence community to gain hard access to communications equipment. One of the products the NSA appears to use to compromise target electronics is codenamed COTTONMOUTH, and has been available since 2009; it’s a USB “hardware implant” that secretly provides the NSA with remote access to the compromised machine.

This tool, among others, is available to NSA agents through what Der Spiegel describes as a mail-order spy catalog. The report indicates that the catalog offers backdoors into the hardware and software of the most prominent technology makers, including Cisco, Juniper Networks, Dell, Seagate, Western Digital, Maxtor, Samsung, and Huawei. Many of the targets are American companies. The report indicates that the NSA can even exploit error reports from Microsoft’s Windows operating system; by intercepting the error reports and determining what’s wrong with a target’s computer, the NSA can then attack it with Trojans or other malware. […]


Read full article at:…/nsa-cia-fbi-laptop-usb-plant-spy

NSA infected 50,000 computer networks with malicious software


NSA intercept operations worldwideThe American intelligence service – NSA – infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information. Documents provided by former NSA-employee Edward Snowden and seen by this newspaper, prove this.

A management presentation dating from 2012 explains how the NSA collects information worldwide. In addition, the presentation shows that the intelligence service uses ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ (CNE) in more than 50,000 locations. CNE is the secret infiltration of computer systems achieved by installing malware, malicious software. […]

The NSA computer attacks are performed by a special department called TAO (Tailored Access Operations). Public sources show that this department employs more than a thousand hackers. As recently as August 2013, the Washington Post published articles about these NSA-TAO cyber operations. In these articles The Washington Post reported that the NSA installed an estimated 20,000 ‘implants’ as early as 2008. These articles were based on a secret budget report of the American intelligence services. By mid-2012 this number had more than doubled to 50,000, as is shown in the presentation NRC Handelsblad laid eyes on.

Read full article:

Julian Assange on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Cypherpunks, Surveillance State

“There’s not a barrier anymore between corporate surveillance, on the one hand, and government surveillance, on the other. You know, Facebook is based—has its servers based in the United States. Gmail, as General Petraeus found out, has its servers based in the United States. And the interplay between U.S. intelligence agencies and other Western intelligence agencies and any intelligence agencies that can hack this is fluid. So, we’re in a—if we look back to what’s a earlier example of the worst penetration by an intelligence apparatus of a society, which is perhaps East Germany, where up to 10 percent of people over their lifetime had been an informer at one stage or another, in Iceland we have 88 percent penetration of Iceland by Facebook. Eighty-eight percent of people are there on Facebook informing on their friends and their movements and the nature of their relationships—and for free. They’re not even being paid money. They’re not even being directly coerced to do it. They’re doing it for social credits to avoid the feeling of exclusion. But people should understand what is really going on. I don’t believe people are doing this or would do it if they truly understood what was going on, that they are doing hundreds of billions of hours of free work for the Central Intelligence Agency, for the FBI, and for all allied agencies and all countries that can ask for favors to get hold of that information.

William Binney, the former chief of research, the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence division, describes this situation that we are in now as ‘turnkey totalitarianism,’ that the whole system of totalitarianism has been built—the car, the engine has been built—and it’s just a matter of turning the key. And actually, when we look to see some of the crackdowns on WikiLeaks and the grand jury process and targeted assassinations and so on, actually it’s arguable that key has already been partly turned. The assassinations that occur extrajudicially, the renditions that occur, they don’t occur in isolation. They occur as a result of the information that has been sucked in through this giant signals interception machinery.”

— Excerpt from “Julian Assange on WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, Cypherpunks, Surveillance State” (Democracy Now!, 29 November 2012)


And here’s another comment from Assange, on a related subject:

“I’m quite interested in the philosophy of technique. Technique means not just a piece of technology but it means, say, majority consensus on a board, or the structure of a parliament — it’s systematized interaction. For example, it seems to me that feudal systems came from the technique of mills. Once you had centralized mills, which required huge investments and which were easily subject to physical control, then it was quite natural that you would end up with feudal relations as a result. As time has gone by we seem to have developed increasingly sophisticated techniques. Some of these techniques can be democratized; they can be spread to everyone. But the majority of them — because of their complexity — are techniques that form as a result of strongly interconnected organizations like Intel Corporation. Perhaps the underlying tendency of technique is to go through these periods of discovering technique, centralizing technique, democratizing technique — when the knowledge about how to do it floods out in the next generation that is educated. But I think that the general tendency for technique is to centralize control in those people who control the physical resources of techniques.”

From “The Web can create revolutions — or jail revolutionaries” (Salon, 02 December 2012)