Nocturnal battle

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cyber Throwdown

The advent of the internet, the cell phone and the proliferation of social networking sites have dramatically changed human communication in this world of ours. There are approximately 200 million Facebook users in the world and an estimated 1,518,571 589 internet users.

While the benefits of instant communication are easily recognizable, the potential hazards of utilizing the new media are also becoming evident. Governments are using the newest popular technology as tools for identifying their citizenry and in some cases, repressing them and worse. Your geographical coordinates are now readily available courtesy of your cellular telephone.

Recently in Iran, the ruling government and the Revolutionary Guard used Facebook to identify dissidents. Jailed dissidents were also shown copies of their Facebook pages in some instances. Of course, in the new globalspeak, all dissidents are now called terrorists. The Iranians also slowed down the networks so that sites like Twitter were practically non operational. Websites like BBC and Facebook were disabled. The Iranian authorities have also apparently mounted an aggressive pro government online movement. Read an interesting article about it here in the Wall Street Journal. The dissidents have then in turn launched denial of service counter strikes at government websites.

When Neda Agha-Soltan was videotaped bleeding to death on Kareker Avenue in Tehran on June 20th, the video had to be smuggled to the Netherlands in order to evade the censors and be posted on Facebook. Admirably, Facebook is now rushing out a Persian language version. Tor sites that mask content origination data are being increasingly used to help the Iranian dissidents thanks to sympathetic third party hosts.

Google was lambasted last year for turning over information to the government in China about it's users personal habits and data. It looks like they have learned their lesson. Interesting and a good sign that they can help actual people as opposed to, say, some dictatorship. In China's recent spat with the Uighers, the social networking sites were completely blacked out as well. The chinese have been the most aggresive government in the world in its attempts to keep the internet genie in the bottle. During the recent 20th anniversary of Tienamen square, China blocked out Youtube. Myanmar shut down the whole internet for 6 weeks in 2007.

Now the United States is launching it's own entry into the militarization of cyberspace. ATT, Verizon and several other companies have been involved in a massive data mining effort with the NSA called Stellar Wind for several years. Rest assured that all of your telephone calls and data have been sucked up and thoroughly scrutinized by the authorities. Read about the project here. A few years ago, Colonel John Poindexter raised quite a hubbub when he suggested his grand DARPA data mining experiment. Can any rational person really think that such ventures are ever curtailed? The government merely waits for some external event that is designed to raise fear in the population and muscles through it's objectives on the black arts side of the ledger.

I quote Daniel Klaidman's article in Newsweek last year referring to these programs:
...a system in which the National Security Agency, with cooperation from some of the country's largest telecommunications companies, was able to vacuum up the records of calls and e-mails of tens of millions of average Americans between September 2001 and March 2004. The program's classified code name was "Stellar Wind," though when officials needed to refer to it on the phone, they called it "SW." (The NSA says it has "no information or comment"; a Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment.)...The NSA's powerful computers became vast storehouses of "metadata." They collected the telephone numbers of callers and recipients in the United States, and the time and duration of the calls. They also collected and stored the subject lines of e-mails, the times they were sent, and the addresses of both senders and recipients. By one estimate, the amount of data the NSA could suck up in close to real time was equivalent to one quarter of the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica per second. (The actual content of calls and e-mails was not being monitored as part of this aspect of the program, the sources say.) All this metadata was then sifted by the NSA, using complex algorithms to detect patterns and links that might indicate terrorist activity.

Of course, the Patriot Act and the subsequent data mining programs are a broad snare whose quarry is not limited to terrorists. Reportedly, Eliot Spitzer's ribald sexual exploits were uncovered through a suspicious activity report or (SARS) in Operation Stellar Wind. So the notions of probable cause and illegal search become quaint historical artifacts. The writers of the Patriot act were clear that the information gleaned through warrant less searches would be shared with all law enforcement and not solely those dedicated to fighting terrorist threats to our security. But rest assured that the intelligence services would never allow themselves to be used for partisan political purposes.

The Obama administration has it's own intercept operation in the works as well, code named Einstein. Of course if you use Google's gmail program, all of your emails have already been read. And if you decide to answer one of Facebook's silly quizzes, you agree to grant them access to sift through all your address book contacts and who knows what else?

According to a 2007 study, over 120 countries are in the process of investigating ways to use the internet as a weapon. The Unites States has recently announced the formation of a new Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Maryland. This will be led by Lieutenant General Keith Alexander. They will presumably be looking for ways to initiate offensive attacks in cyberspace.

In a speech to the US Congress on May 5, General Alexander said it was his responsibility as head of the NSA to help plan, coordinate, and conduct offensive and defensive cyberspace operations.

"Maintaining freedom of action in cyberspace in the 21st Century is as inherent to US interests as freedom of the seas was in the 19th Century, and access to air and space in the 20th Century," he said.

Russia would like to enter into a treaty with the United States in regards to international cybersecurity but the Unites States would rather seek a more informal cooperation that will allow them to institute offensive attacks. Some countries have reportedly created cyber weapons such as botnets, logic bombs and microwave radiation devices. Logic bombs are hidden in computers to interrupt them at will or destroy circuitry, botnets can disable or spy on websites and networks, and microwave radiation devices are used to burn out computer circuits from a remote location.

So a cool thing like the internet, once a plaything of a bunch of hippies on the Well and Vinton Cerf, is now another tool in your favorite neighborly regime's quiver. Another place for the adults to play war games. You don't have to be a paranoid, merely a semi rational human with a healthy fear for your privacy and liberty to realize that all of these modern conveniences of ours might come with a price.

During the past week, our country was hit by a wave of cyber attacks, as was South Korea. Initial fingers point to North Korea but it could turn out to be some precocious eleven year old kid from Pacoima for all I know. What I do know is that our personal liberty and privacy rights are gone with the wind and I suspect never to return. But as my conservative friends are fond of saying, "I got nothing to hide anyway, what do I care?"

Sometimes paranoia's just having all the facts.
William S. Burroughs

We had no idea that this would turn into a global and public infrastructure.
Vinton Cerf

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is another example of the unintended consequences of technological progress.

This kind of modern Babel tower will follow the same path and destination like the ancient Babel tower myth--noise,confusion.