Some essential additions to our Internet glossary

1390397_79061953_330Times 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.)

Gag Order
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.

This list of secret NSA programs and codenames is far from complete. Security guru Bruce Schneier puts it very well in a TED interview together with our Mikko Hyppönen.

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.

Safe surfing,

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Mikko Hypponen What Twitter knows

5 things Twitter knows about you

At Re:publica 2015, our Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen told the main stage crowd that the world's top scientists are now focused on the delivery of ads. "I think this is sad," he said. [youtube] To give the audience a sense of how much Twitter knows about its users, he showed them the remarkable targeting the microblogging service offers its advertisers. If you use the site, you may be served promoted tweets based on the following: 1. What breakfast cereal you eat. 2. The alcohol you drink. 3. Your income. 4. If you suffer from allergies. 5. If you're expecting a child. And that's just the beginning. You can be targeted based not only on your recent device purchases but things you may be in the market for like, say, a new house or a new car. You can see all the targeting offered by logging into your Twitter, going to the top right corner of the interface, clicking on your icon and selecting "Twitter Ads". Can Twitter learn all this just based on your tweets and which accounts follow? No, Mikko said. "They buy this information from real world shops, from credit card companies, and from frequent buyer clubs." Twitter then connects this information to you based on... your phone number. And you've agreed to have this happen to you because you read and memorized the nearly 7,000 words in its Terms and Conditions. Because everyone reads the terms and conditions. Full disclosure: We do occasionally promote tweets on Twitter to promote or digital freedom message and tools like Freedome that block ad trackers. It's an effective tool and we find the irony rich. Part of our mission is to make it clear that there's no such thing as "free" on the internet. If you aren't paying a price, you are the product. Aral Balkan compares social networks to a creepy uncle" that pays the bills by listening to as many of your conversations as they can then selling what they've heard to its actual customers. And with the world's top minds dedicated to monetizing your attention, we just think you should be as aware of advertisers as they are as of you. Most of the top URLs in the world are actually trackers that you never access directly. To get a sense of what advertisers learn every time you click check out our new Privacy Checker. Cheers, Jason

May 15, 2015
Internet Communication

What Clicking Tells Online Trackers

The Internet is first and foremost a communication medium. Every link that people click, every character they enter, and every video they watch involves an exchange of information. And it’s not just a two-way conversation between a person and their computer, or a person and someone they’re chatting with. There’s more people than listening in, and because computers use languages that people don’t necessarily understand, it’s logical to infer that many people may not be fully aware of what they’re actually saying. F-Secure launched a new Privacy Checker to help pull back the magic curtain that hides online tracking. A lot of online tracking is about employing passive data collection techniques – techniques that allow observers to monitor behavior without having any direct interaction with the people they're observing. Such passive data collection techniques are pervasive online, and websites are often designed to facilitate this kind of tracking. The prevalence of these technologies lends credence to the idea that control is becoming ubiquitous online, and represents a substantial threat to digital freedom. Do you ever read “top 10” articles or other types of lists on websites that require you to “turn pages” by clicking a button? Clicking those buttons lets online trackers know how far you go in the article before you stop reading (not something that can be done reliably when content is on a single page). That’s how passive data collection works. The Privacy Checker works by checking the information stored in web browsers, and then generates a report about what it’s learned. It can usually deduce where you’re located, what language you speak, whether or not you were directed to the checker from Google or another website, what device and operating system you’re using, and whether or not you allow your browser to use tracking cookies. If you think about this as a communicative event – an interaction in which information is exchanged – simply clicking a button has told the Privacy Checker all of this information. So if you were to breakdown the result from a check I ran as an interaction, you could say I told the Privacy Checker the following: “I am in Helsinki, Finland”. “I speak English”. “I use to find things online”. “I use a mobile device with Android 4.4.2”. “I allow my browser to accept cookies”. The Privacy Checker responded by explaining what I told it when I pushed the “Check Now” button. The Privacy Checker also provided me with some information on how companies use the things I tell them to make money. The Privacy Checker is probably the only online conversation partner that you’ll ever have that provides you with this transparency. Many people don’t know or aren’t interested in constantly sharing this information, and many websites are designed to help their administrators make money from this data. And this is a key threat to online privacy: more and more technologies are being developed to capture, store, and analyze your data without your knowledge. This blog post emphasizes the significance of the threat by pointing out that huge investments are being made in companies and technologies that monetize your data. The author even refers to it as information about "pseudo-private" behavior – a label that really underscores how much value some of these companies place on privacy. The Privacy Checker sheds some light on this to help people understand what they’re really saying when they click around the web. It’s free to use and available on F-Secure’s new Digital Privacy website, which contains more information about online privacy and the fight for digital freedom. [ Image by geralt | Pixabay ]

May 15, 2015
business security cyber defense

You have new e-mail — or, how to let hackers sneak in with a single click

This is the first in a series of posts about Cyber Defense that happened to real people in real life, costing very real money. A rainy, early spring day was slowly getting underway at a local council office in a small town in Western Poland. It was a morning like any other. Nobody there expected that this unremarkable day would see a series of events that would soon affect the entire community... Joanna Kaczmarek, a Senior Specialist in the council’s Accounting Department, rushed into her office a little late, but in a good mood nonetheless. Before getting down to work, she brewed herself a cup of coffee and played some music on her computer. Several days earlier, she had finally installed a music app on her PC so she could listen to her favourite tunes while she worked. This had taken some effort though, as she had needed administrator’s access to her computer. It took a lot of pleading and cajoling, but after a week the IT guy finally gave in. Joanna had no idea that she was opening a dangerous gap in the council’s IT system. That morning, Joanna launched, as she had countless times before, a government issued budget management application. With a few clicks, she made a transfer order for nearly twenty thousand zloty. The recipient of the money was a company that had won the contract for the renovation of a main road in the town. The whole operation took seconds. Two days later, the owner of the company phoned Joanna, asking about the advance he was supposed have received. “I can’t get the work started without that money”, he complained in an annoyed voice. Joanna was a little surprised and contacted the bank. The bank confirmed the operation, saying that there was nothing suspicious about it. Joanna, together with the Head of the IT Department, carefully ran back over the events of the day of the transfer. They found nothing out of the ordinary, so started checking what was happening on Joanna’s computer around the time before the transfer date. They soon found something: nearly a week prior to the date of the missing transfer, Joanna had received an email from the developer of the budget management software. For Joanna, the message hadn’t raised any red flags; the email contained a reminder about a software update and looked very legitimate. It contained the developer’s contact data, logo and telephone number. Everything was in order… Everything except for a change of one letter in the sender’s address. Joanna hadn’t noticed – a “t” and an “f” look so alike when you read quickly, don’t they? Unaware of the consequences, Joanna followed the link that was to take her to the update website. With just one click of her mouse she started a snowball of events that ultimately affected each and every resident of the town. Instead of the “update”, she downloaded dangerous spyware onto her computer. In this way, the cybercriminals who orchestrated the attack learnt that the woman was a Senior Specialist in the Accounting Department and was responsible for transferring money, including EU funds. The thieves lured Joanna into a digital trap, tricking her into installing software that replaced bank account numbers “on the fly”. As she was processing the transaction, the hackers replaced the recipient’s account details with their own, effectively stealing the money. Joanna would have been unable to install the fake update if she hadn’t obtained the administrator’s rights she’d needed for her music app. All she had wanted was to listen to some music while she worked. If only she had known what the consequences would be... After the attack was discovered, the Police launched an investigation. Joanna was just one of many victims. Investigators discovered that the malware infection was likely to have targeted computers used by local government workers in hundreds of municipalities across Poland. Law enforcement authorities haven’t officially disclosed how much money was stolen, but given the fact that losses may have been underreported, the estimated figures are in the millions of zlotys. On the top of that, Joanna’s town had to wait months for the completion of the roadwork. This was one of the largest mass cyber-attacks against local government in Poland. It certainly won’t be the last one... For small and medium sized enterprises, the average financial loss as the result of a cyber security incident is on average 380 000€. The risk and the lost is real. Don’t be an easy target. We help businesses avoid becoming an easy victim to cyber attacks by offering best in class end-point protection and security management solutions trusted by millions.

May 13, 2015