Times are changing and we have to learn new things all the time. People interested in privacy on the Internet have been faced with a flood of new acronyms and terms lately. Here comes a brief list of terminology that has remained fairly unknown for a long time, but suddenly become very central to how our cyber society is developing. Keep these in mind if you want to be privacy-savvy.
The best know signal intelligence system of the cold war era. Operated by the NSA and capable to store and analyze both data and telephone traffic globally. Today a legacy system.
FISA, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
A US law that, together with other related laws and amendments, controls usage of non-US citizens’ communications for the benefit of US interests. Controls is however a misleading word as it pretty much boils down to carte blanche to spy on foreigners. This is of paramount importance for the whole Internet as most of the cloud services are run by American companies, and most users are foreigners.
FISC, FISA-Court, United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
A secret US court that is supposed to review and approve data gathering efforts under the FISA and related laws. Evil tongues call it a rubber stamp, but it has actually denied 11 requests out of a total of 33 949 during 1979-2012. (Some of those 11 were approved after modification.)
A court order to shut up about something.
GCHQ, Government Communications Headquarters
UK’s own NSA. Responsible for gathering info from Internet traffic for the needs of the UK government and military.
A former encrypted mail service run by Ladar Levinson. Became iconic in the fight for Internet privacy when closed down in August 2013. According to Ladar: “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.” This smells NSL (see below) to high heaven.
NSA, National Security Agency
USA’s main signals intelligence agency. Operates globally to intercept and decode information. Recent reports indicate that NSA’s strategy largely seems to be to store as much information as possibly for further use, rather than picking targets and eavesdropping selectively. NSA is also a leader in cryptography and cryptanalysis, and is believed to have more supercomputer capacity than anyone else on this planet.
NSL, National security letter
An order from a US agency to hand over information or implement information gathering systems. These letters come with strict gag orders that even prevents the subject from revealing the existence of a NSL or seeking legal advice about it. Their legal status is controversial because of the broad gag orders that are in conflict with the 1st amendment. Anyone should keep the NSLs in mind when listening to top executives of Google, Facebook, Apple etc. who denies that NSA can tap into their systems.
Currently the best known of all the data gathering programs run by NSA. PRISM is apparently a database application that stores data from many sources.
SIGINT, Signals intelligence
Operations aiming to gather information by eavesdropping on communications and other signals or stored data. Involves the art of decoding or decrypting messages as well as gathering information by analyzing traffic patterns.
A system run by UK’s GCHQ that collects data in real time from internet and telephone communications.
Utah data center
A data center located in Bluffdale, Utah and operated by the NSA. The center is about to be finalized and believed to provide 3 – 12 Exabyte of storage data right now, more in the future as storage technology evolves. It has been said that five Exabyte is equivalent to all words ever spoken by humans since the dawn of time. This is outdated, but still interesting when trying to imagine how much an Exabyte really is. So what exactly is NSA going to do with all this storage?
A NSA system that gives analysts powerful tools to query for information about identified targets or suspicious patterns in larger datasets.
A person who makes crimes or other unethical activities known to a larger public, often by violating agreements or the law. A significant portion of what we know about SIGINT on the Internet has been revealed by whistleblowers.
Bruce Schneier: “First, be careful with names. PRISM is a specific NSA database, just a part of the overall NSA surveillance effort. The agency has been playing all sorts of games with names, dividing their efforts up and using many different code names in an attempt to disguise what they’re doing. It allows them to deny that a specific program is doing something, while conveniently omitting the fact that another program is doing the thing and the two programs are talking to each other. So I am less interested in what is in the specific PRISM database, and more what the NSA is doing overall with domestic surveillance.”
Very well said! Here you can find a more comprehensive list of NSA programs and codenames.
See that floppy disc? That's how F-Secure Labs used to get malware to analyze. Nowadays, of course, it's much different, Andy Patel from the Labs explained in a recent post, "What's The Deal with Scanning Engines?" In just a few hundred words, Andy lays out what makes modern protection so different from the anti-virus that you remember from the 80s, 90s or even the early 00s. And it's not just that floppy disks the Labs once analyzed have been replaced by almost any sort of digital input, down to a piece of memory or a network stream. The whole post is worth checking out if you're interested in how relentless modern internet security must be to keep up with the panoply of online threats we face. But here's a quick look at five of the key components of endpoint protection that work in tandem to stop attacks in their tracks, as described by Andy: Scanning engines. Today’s detections are really just complex computer programs, designed to perform intricate sample analysis directly on the client. Modern detections are designed to catch thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of samples. URL blocking. Preventing a user from being exposed to a site hosting an exploit kit or other malicious content negates the need for any further protection measures. We do this largely via URL and IP reputation cloud queries. Spam blocking and email filtering also happen here. Exploit detection. If a user does manage to visit a site hosting an exploit kit, and that user is running vulnerable software, any attempt to exploit that vulnerable software will be blocked by our behavioral monitoring engine. Network and on-access scanning. If a user receives a malicious file via email or download, it will be scanned on the network or when it is written to disk. If the file is found to be malicious, it will be removed from the user’s system. Behavioral blocking. Assuming no file-based detection existed for the object, the user may then go on to open or execute the document, script, or program. At this point, malicious behavior will be blocked by our behavioral engine and again, the file will be removed. The fact is, a majority of malware delivery mechanisms are easily blocked behaviorally. In most cases, when we find new threats, we also discover that we had, in the distant past, already added logic addressing the mechanisms it uses.If you're interested in knowing more about behavioral engines, check out this post in which Andy makes then easy to understand by comparing the technology to securing an office building. So you must be wondering, does this all work? Is it enough? Well, our experts and our computers are always learning. But in all the tests this year run by independent analysts AV-Comparatives, we’ve blocked 100% of the real-world threats thrown at us. Cheers, Jason
In 1853 a strange new invention appeared in the English cityscape, and caused a small wave of moral outrage among Victorians. This perceived threat to social order was not a new drug, political movement or saucy romance novel, but the seemingly harmless letter box. One reason was the shocking development of women now being able to post letters without consent from their husbands or fathers, and the other one was that sending anonymous letters would now be even easier. Maybe Victorians weren’t very thick-skinned, and were worried about unsigned letters calling people zounderkites and rantallions would skyrocket. Who knows? History now tells us that these attempts to control this early form of long-distance communication were ridiculous. And yet, a modern version of this debate is happening even today: there are those who want to make encrypted, anonymous communication available for everyone, and those who wish to restrict it. No new technology comes without drawbacks, and encryption is no exception. However, just as with the Victorian letter box, the pros greatly outweigh the cons. But why do people want to be anonymous online? Those who oppose encryption and other methods which advance online anonymity often throw around the tired argument “If you don’t have anything to hide, you have no need to be anonymous”. Not only does this statement show an astounding lack of perspective, it is also blatantly false. According to CBS there is a rising increase in desire for online anonymity, and there are many perfectly valid and legitimate reason to cover your tracks online. A lot of us just don’t feel comfortable with their Internet Service Provider, employer or even government having access to their surfing information. We all have a right to privacy, but technology is increasing the size of our digital footprint to the point when we can never know who is monitoring what we do online. Legislation, like the aptly nicknamed Snoopers Charter have the potential to give governments and ISP’s blanket rights to monitor web traffic of normal users in the name of security. This means the responsibility to protect our individual privacy rests increasingly in our own hands, and VPN services like our own Freedome go a long way in making that happen. For many people, it’s about control. We share aspects of our lives and personality on social media and other websites, but the choice of what we share should be ours to make. This control is taken away by advertisers and tracking companies, who collect information about us from different websites and piece them together to form elaborate dossiers which contain way more information about us than most would be comfortable sharing, like your medical information or what kind of porn you watch. For many, part of being anonymous online is blocking this kind of intrusive tracking, and it’s hard to find fault in that. The most serious group of people wanting anonymity are those for whom it is not so much a matter of principle but a matter of life and death. We are talking about activists, journalists and opposition supporters who operate under oppressive regimes or in places where criminals seek out and silence those who speak against them. It’s easy for those who support intrusive privacy legislation to forget that the governments who enact them will invariably have ulterior motives to “catching terrorists” or “protecting national security”: they give governments the power to control what we say. Open and free communication is the greatest tool the masses have to keep those in power accountable for their actions, and there is nothing open or free about the kind of mass surveillance which is happening more and more, legally and otherwise. What are your reasons to be anonymous online? This is not a black & white subject, and we’d be glad to hear your thoughts via the Freedome twitter channel @FreedomeVPN.
Allegations that Facebook "suppressed" conservative news, first reported by Gizmodo, quickly snowballed into broader charges that Facebook "censors" viewpoints its employees doesn't like. Facebook is the first access point to the internet for hundreds of millions if not a billion people around the world. And for millennials in the U.S., it is their primary source for political news. Some have suggested that the site could actually tilt the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Hence Facebook takes these allegations and the damage they've done to Facebook's image among conservatives seriously. Users will never be able to control the "Trending" section of the site, which Facebook insists is handled objectively as possible through curators (and, apparently, a lot of help from Google). But you do have some control over your news feed, which is generated by Facebook's algorithm "Edgerank." There are things you can do to influence your feed in hopes of seeing a diverse flow of information that doesn't simply confirm your biases. Here are 5: Get rid of the noise. Go to https://www.facebook.com/friends/organize and add the people you want to get less news from to your "acquaintances" list. You'll see their posts a lot less often and -- best of all -- they'll have no idea you've demoted them. Let Facebook do less of the picking for you. On the left column of your home page, under Favorites, next to News Feed click the arrow and select "Most Recent". This won't turn off Facebook's algorithm completely, but it will make it more likely you'll see a diversity of sources in your feed. Trust someone. Find a few people you respect who have a different political leanings than you and ask them for one Facebook page to follow. Just one? That's enough. Once you like the page, Facebook will help from there by suggesting a few pages with similar leanings. Of course, you're relying on Facebook's recommendations. But if you don't trust Facebook at all, this would be a good time to delete your account. Prioritize the new blood. Click on the down arrow in the upper right corner of any Facebook page and select "News Feed Preferences" and then select "Prioritize who to see first" and then on the dropdown menu select "Pages only." Now click on those new pages you just added to your stream -- along with the other valuable news sources you think help keep you informed. 5. Teach Facebook what you like. When you see something you like, click on it, comment on it, interact with it. Facebook exists to keep you in Facebook and will reward your clicks with similar content. And if you get a post you don't like, you can tell Facebook by clicking on that subtle little down arrow, which will show you this: Yes, you're sort of "censoring" your feed. But at least it's you doing it. Cheers, Jason [Image by Turinboy | Flickr]