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FBI Spies, Conceals From Congress

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Sony was shredded by a group that the government claims is based in North Korea, a theory that almost nobody in the security field finds credible. CENTCOM’s Twitter was the subject of a hilarious false flag takeover that credited ISIS, a claim that is considered questionable due to certain cultural nuances in what it communicated. Ross Ulbricht’s trial has begun with talk of jury nullification and claims that he is not Dread Pirate Roberts.

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The common threads behind this are the U.S. Government’s cyber-incompetence, despite massive spending and the complete dereliction of oversight duty on the part of Congress.

Edward Snowden’s leak has shown just how bad things are, but until we hold the feet of Congress to the fire, we are left piecing together what is happening by using the Freedom Of Information Act to liberate details. A recent FOIA response (pdf) obtained by the New York Times reveals just how unconstitutional their efforts are.

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Reading Between The Black

DoJPrior to going very far into this you should know that the review was produced by the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice. This is an independent internal department responsible for oversight that has a dual reporting path – one to the U.S. Attorney General and the other to Congress. The OIG semi-annual activity reports are freely available, but we won’t see this specific FAA report summarized until April of 2015.

Reading the 284-page PDF entitled “A Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Activities Under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act of 2008” is an exercise in patience. Perhaps 50% of it is black out redacted, leaving little more than paragraph headings for page after page. The most important clues are the ‘implicit hyperlinks’ to external information in the form of dates that certain practices were first implemented, terminated, or otherwise modified.

  • FISA Amendment Act passed July 2008
  • FBI begins receiving & holding some raw data October 2009
  • Only ONE annual report was done by February 2012, covering 7/2008-9/2009
  • Congress extends FAA until 2017 December 2012

Four years of potentially unconstitutional spying. One mandated annual report completed. The month after that report the FBI starts keeping raw data and stops reporting on what it’s doing. You can draw your own conclusions from this.

A Deeper Understanding

Reading a single FOIA is likely to be extremely frustrating for a novice. The responses are calculated to do this. Although now six years old, James Bamford’s The Shadow Factory is much more substantial than the short Wikipedia entry might lead you to believe, and it provides an excellent overview of what is happening within the NSA. A good companion for this book is Timothy Shorrock’s Spies For Hire, which covers the “if you can’t buy, you can’t spy” ethos that has come with the outsourcing of the bulk of our intelligence collection work.

You can follow Bamford at @WashAuthor and Shorrock at @TimothyS. Both use Twitter socially, but they keep up a good flow of information on their areas of expertise.

Further Dereliction In The Works

You might think that an unconstitutional (and terribly ineffective) spying program might be of great interest to a penny-pinching Congress, but instead they appear to be ready to do the exact opposite. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has just offered the batty idea that they’re going to make end to end encryption illegal, so the White House’s plan (pdf) to expand on the already deeply flawed Computer Fraud & Abuse Act seems almost reasonable in comparison.

The full impact of the proposed amendment, which covers eleven pages, have touched off a firestorm of wrath from security researchers. Those who are engaged in hunting exploits, even if they follow community standards for responsible disclosure, could be prosecuted. The consensus is that the proposed changes will hobble U.S. security research, pushing the best talent overseas, while pushing our country further behind in this area.

Images from Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock.

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  1. Black Dynamite

    January 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    Anybody who makes encryption illegal is a thief themselves. You have to question the ethics and motives of anybody who would even say such a thing. Governments, banks, and military have been, and will continue to use, encryption for decades. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. When they stop using potentially “illegal” means, so will I.
    BD

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Breaches

Uber Is Paying Hackers to Keep Quiet

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Uber Technologies Inc. has reportedly paid hackers to delete scores of private data stolen from the company in a security breach that was concealed for over a year. The revelation provides further confirmation that, when it comes to cyber security, crime does pay.

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Massive Data Breach

According to Bloomberg Technology, hackers retrieved the personal data of 57 million Uber customers and drivers at some point last year. Nobody heard about it because the rideshare company paid the hackers $100,000 to keep quiet. A purge at the front office of Uber also ensured that the massive cyber breach was kept under wraps.

The compromised data was from October 2016 and included the names, phone numbers and addressed of 50 million Uber riders globally. About seven million drivers had their personal information accessed as well.

At the time of the cyber attack, Uber was inundated with a slew of legal issues stemming from alleged privacy violations. Rather than shine even more negative spotlight on the company, Uber executives decided to pay hackers to stay quiet.

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“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over as CEO in September, said in a statement that was published by Bloomberg. “We are changing the way we do business.”

Hackers have done a masterful job infiltrating companies and governments in recent years. As a reminder, recent cyber attacks levied against Yahoo!, Target Corp and Equifax Inc. dwarf Uber’s 57 million compromised accounts.

Various reports indicate that cyber attacks are bleeding the global economy dry. One report, issued by the World Economic Forum, suggests that cyber crime cost the world economy $445 billion in 2016. If cyber crime were its own market cap, it would exceed Microsoft Inc., Facebook Inc. and ExxonMobil Corp

The Fall of Uber?

Uber revolutionized the ride-hailing business over the span of seven years by giving more power to the consumer. Several missteps later, the company finds itself in legal hot water, with its future appearing less certain than it did just one year ago.

The rideshare company faces at least five U.S. probes ranging from bribes to illicit software and right up to unethical pricing schemes. According to another Bloomberg report, Uber is under investigation for violating price transparency regulations, not to mention the alleged theft of documents for Google’s autonomous cars.

Some governments are sensing weakness in the ride-hailing service, and are moving toward banning the Uber app entirely. London is the most prominent example of a city that has taken definitive steps to outlaw the service over a “lack of corporate responsibility.”

Even with its legal troubles, Uber is a revolutionary technology that has influenced a bevy of other innovations aimed at improving the human experience.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

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Cybersecurity

The Pirate Bay is Hijacking PCs to Stealth-Mine Cryptocurrency

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For the second time in as many months, The Pirate Bay has been caught mining cryptocurrency on your computer without consent. The torrent platform was actually test-driving cryptocurrency mining in your browser – no doubt a lucrative revenue stream.

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The Pirates Are At It Again

The Pirate Bay has been caught using software called Coinhive, a JavaScript library that essentially serves as a cryptocurrency miner. It basically connects to visitors’ computers to mine Monero, one of the world’s most profitable cryptocurrencies.

The news was later confirmed by Bleeping Computer, which reported that,”The Pirate Bay, the internet’s largest torrent portal, is back at running a cryptocurrency miner after it previously ran a short test in mid-September.”

Estimates indicate that the scheme has earned the pirates a total of $43,000 over a three-week period.

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Users had no way to opt their computers out of being test-driven by the torrent network. Back in September, The Pirate Bay got away by telling people it was just a test. The site’s owners cannot use the same excuse this time around.

CoinHive advises websites to let their visitors  know their browser is being used to mine cryptocurrency.

“We’re a bit saddened to see that some of our customers integrate CoinHive into their pages without disclosing to their users what’s going on, let alone asking for their permission,” the company said.

The good news is most ad-blockers and antivirus programs will block CoinHive, given its recent abuses. That means not all visitors of The Pirate Pay were being used as a conduit for mining Monero.

Monero Joins Global Crypto Rally

The value of Monero (XMR) shot up nearly 8% on Friday, and was last seen trading at $94.17. With more than 15.2 million XMR tokens in circulation, the total market cap for Monero is $1.4 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. That’s enough for ninth on the global cryptocurrency list.

Twelve cryptos have now crossed the $1 billion valuation mark. A handful of others have made their way north of $500 million.

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Breaches

Ethereum Notches Two-Month High as Bitcoin Offspring Triggers Volatility

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Digital currency Ethereum climbed to a two-month high on Monday, taking some of the heat off Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, which have slumped since the weekend.

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Ethereum Forges Higher Path

Concerns over Bitcoin created a favourable tailwind for Ethereum (ETH/USD), which is the world’s No. 2 digital currency by total assets. Ether’s price topped $340.00 on Monday and later settled at $323.54. That was the highest since June 20.

At its peak, ether was up 10% on the day and 70% for the month of August.

The ETH/USD was last down 2.2% at $315.02, according to Bitfinex. Prices are due for a brisk recovery, based on the daily momentum indicators.

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Fractured Bitcoin Community

Bitcoin and its offshoot, Bitcoin Cash, retreated on Monday following a volatile weekend. The BTC/USD slumped at the start of the week and was down more than 3% on Tuesday, with prices falling below $3,900.00. Just last week, Bitcoin was trading at new records near $4,500.00.

Bitcoin Cash, which emerged after the Aug. 1 hard fork, climbed to new records on Saturday, but has been in free-fall ever since. The BTH was down another 20% on Tuesday to $594.49, according to CoinMarketCap. Its total market value has dropped by several billion over the past two days.

Analysts say that a “fractured” Bitcoin community has made Ethereum a more attractive bet this week. The ether token has shown remarkable poise over the past seven days, despite trading well shy of a new record.

Other drivers behind Ethereum’s advance are steady demand from South Korean investors and growing confidence in a smooth upgrade for the the ETH network. The upgrade, which has been dubbed “Metropolis,” is expected in the next several weeks. Its key benefits include tighter transaction privacy and greater efficiency.

Ethereum Prices Unaffected by ICO Heist

Fin-tech developer Enigma was on the receiving end of a cyber-heist on Monday after hackers took over the company’s website, mailing list and instant messaging platforms. The hack occurred three weeks before Enigma’s planned Initial Coin Offering (ICO) for September 11.

In addition to defacing the company’s website, the hackers pushed a special “pre-sale” ahead of the ICO. While many users realized it was a scam, 1,492 ether tokens – valued at $495,000 – were directed into the hackers’ cryptocurrency wallet by unsuspecting backers.

The irony in all this is that Engima is a cryptography company that prides itself on top-notch security protocols. The company issued a statement that its servers had not been compromised.

ETH/USD (Bitfinex)

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