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      The Internet Enabled Mass Surveillance. AI Will Enable Mass Spying.

      news.movim.eu / Schneier · Tuesday, 5 December - 05:51 · 4 minutes

    Spying and surveillance are different but related things. If I hired a private detective to spy on you, that detective could hide a bug in your home or car, tap your phone, and listen to what you said. At the end, I would get a report of all the conversations you had and the contents of those conversations. If I hired that same private detective to put you under surveillance, I would get a different report: where you went, whom you talked to, what you purchased, what you did.

    Before the internet, putting someone under surveillance was expensive and time-consuming. You had to manually follow someone around, noting where they went, whom they talked to, what they purchased, what they did, and what they read. That world is forever gone. Our phones track our locations. Credit cards track our purchases. Apps track whom we talk to, and e-readers know what we read. Computers collect data about what we’re doing on them, and as both storage and processing have become cheaper, that data is increasingly saved and used. What was manual and individual has become bulk and mass. Surveillance has become the business model of the internet, and there’s no reasonable way for us to opt out of it.

    Spying is another matter. It has long been possible to tap someone’s phone or put a bug in their home and/or car, but those things still require someone to listen to and make sense of the conversations. Yes, spyware companies like NSO Group help the government hack into people’s phones , but someone still has to sort through all the conversations. And governments like China could censor social media posts based on particular words or phrases, but that was coarse and easy to bypass . Spying is limited by the need for human labor.

    AI is about to change that. Summarization is something a modern generative AI system does well. Give it an hourlong meeting, and it will return a one-page summary of what was said. Ask it to search through millions of conversations and organize them by topic, and it’ll do that. Want to know who is talking about what? It’ll tell you.

    The technologies aren’t perfect; some of them are pretty primitive. They miss things that are important. They get other things wrong. But so do humans. And, unlike humans, AI tools can be replicated by the millions and are improving at astonishing rates. They’ll get better next year, and even better the year after that. We are about to enter the era of mass spying.

    Mass surveillance fundamentally changed the nature of surveillance. Because all the data is saved, mass surveillance allows people to conduct surveillance backward in time, and without even knowing whom specifically you want to target. Tell me where this person was last year. List all the red sedans that drove down this road in the past month. List all of the people who purchased all the ingredients for a pressure cooker bomb in the past year. Find me all the pairs of phones that were moving toward each other, turned themselves off, then turned themselves on again an hour later while moving away from each other (a sign of a secret meeting).

    Similarly, mass spying will change the nature of spying. All the data will be saved. It will all be searchable, and understandable, in bulk. Tell me who has talked about a particular topic in the past month, and how discussions about that topic have evolved. Person A did something; check if someone told them to do it. Find everyone who is plotting a crime, or spreading a rumor, or planning to attend a political protest.

    There’s so much more. To uncover an organizational structure, look for someone who gives similar instructions to a group of people, then all the people they have relayed those instructions to. To find people’s confidants, look at whom they tell secrets to. You can track friendships and alliances as they form and break, in minute detail. In short, you can know everything about what everybody is talking about.

    This spying is not limited to conversations on our phones or computers. Just as cameras everywhere fueled mass surveillance, microphones everywhere will fuel mass spying. Siri and Alexa and “Hey Google” are already always listening; the conversations just aren’t being saved yet.

    Knowing that they are under constant surveillance changes how people behave. They conform. They self-censor, with the chilling effects that brings . Surveillance facilitates social control, and spying will only make this worse. Governments around the world already use mass surveillance; they will engage in mass spying as well.

    Corporations will spy on people. Mass surveillance ushered in the era of personalized advertisements; mass spying will supercharge that industry. Information about what people are talking about, their moods, their secrets—it’s all catnip for marketers looking for an edge. The tech monopolies that are currently keeping us all under constant surveillance won’t be able to resist collecting and using all of that data.

    In the early days of Gmail, Google talked about using people’s Gmail content to serve them personalized ads. The company stopped doing it , almost certainly because the keyword data it collected was so poor—and therefore not useful for marketing purposes. That will soon change. Maybe Google won’t be the first to spy on its users’ conversations, but once others start, they won’t be able to resist. Their true customers—their advertisers—will demand it.

    We could limit this capability. We could prohibit mass spying. We could pass strong data-privacy rules. But we haven’t done anything to limit mass surveillance. Why would spying be any different?

    This essay originally appeared in Slate .

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      FBI Disables Russian Malware

      news.movim.eu / Schneier · Wednesday, 10 May, 2023 - 15:26

    Reuters is reporting that the FBI “had identified and disabled malware wielded by Russia’s FSB security service against an undisclosed number of American computers, a move they hoped would deal a death blow to one of Russia’s leading cyber spying programs.”

    The headline says that the FBI “sabotaged” the malware, which seems to be wrong.

    Presumably we will learn more soon.

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      Pro-Russian hackers target elected US officials supporting Ukraine

      news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Thursday, 30 March, 2023 - 12:19

    Locked out.

    Enlarge / Locked out. (credit: Sean Gladwell / Getty Images )

    Threat actors aligned with Russia and Belarus are targeting elected US officials supporting Ukraine, using attacks that attempt to compromise their email accounts, researchers from security firm Proofpoint said.

    The campaign, which also targets officials of European nations, uses malicious JavaScript that’s customized for individual webmail portals belonging to various NATO-aligned organizations, a report Proofpoint published Thursday said. The threat actor—which Proofpoint has tracked since 2021 under the name TA473—employs sustained reconnaissance and painstaking research to ensure the scripts steal targets’ usernames, passwords, and other sensitive login credentials as intended on each publicly exposed webmail portal being targeted.

    Tenacious targeting

    “This actor has been tenacious in its targeting of American and European officials as well as military and diplomatic personnel in Europe,” Proofpoint threat researcher Michael Raggi wrote in an email. “Since late 2022, TA473 has invested an ample amount of time studying the webmail portals of European government entities and scanning publicly facing infrastructure for vulnerabilities all in an effort to ultimately gain access to emails of those closely involved in government affairs and the Russia-Ukraine war.”

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      Security Vulnerabilities in Covert CIA Websites

      news.movim.eu / Schneier · Sunday, 2 October, 2022 - 15:03 · 1 minute

    Back in 2018, we learned that covert system of websites that the CIA used for communications was compromised by —at least—China and Iran, and that the blunder caused a bunch of arrests, imprisonments, and executions. We’re now learning that the CIA is still “using an irresponsibly secured system for asset communication.”

    Citizen Lab did the research :

    Using only a single website, as well as publicly available material such as historical internet scanning results and the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, we identified a network of 885 websites and have high confidence that the United States (US) Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used these sites for covert communication.

    The websites included similar Java, JavaScript, Adobe Flash, and CGI artifacts that implemented or apparently loaded covert communications apps. In addition, blocks of sequential IP addresses registered to apparently fictitious US companies were used to host some of the websites. All of these flaws would have facilitated discovery by hostile parties.

    […]

    The bulk of the websites that we discovered were active at various periods between 2004 and 2013. We do not believe that the CIA has recently used this communications infrastructure. Nevertheless, a subset of the websites are linked to individuals who may be former and possibly still active intelligence community employees or assets:

    • Several are currently abroad
    • Another left mainland China in the timeframe of the Chinese crackdown
    • Another was subsequently employed by the US State Department
    • Another now works at a foreign intelligence contractor

    Citizen Lab is not publishing details, of course.

    When I was a kid, I thought a lot about being a spy. And this, right here, was the one thing I worried about. It didn’t matter how clever and resourceful I was. If my handlers were incompetent, I was dead.

    Another news article .

    EDITED TO ADD (10/2): Shashdot thread .

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      Microsoft Issues Report of Russian Cyberattacks against Ukraine

      news.movim.eu / Schneier · Thursday, 28 April, 2022 - 14:15

    Microsoft has a comprehensive report on the dozens of cyberattacks — and even more espionage operations — Russia has conducted against Ukraine as part of this war:

    At least six Russian Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actors and other unattributed threats, have conducted destructive attacks, espionage operations, or both, while Russian military forces attack the country by land, air, and sea. It is unclear whether computer network operators and physical forces are just independently pursuing a common set of priorities or actively coordinating. However, collectively, the cyber and kinetic actions work to disrupt or degrade Ukrainian government and military functions and undermine the public’s trust in those same institutions.

    […]

    Threat groups with known or suspected ties to the GRU have continuously developed and used destructive wiper malware or similarly destructive tools on targeted Ukrainian networks at a pace of two to three incidents a week since the eve of invasion. From February 23 to April 8, we saw evidence of nearly 40 discrete destructive attacks that permanently destroyed files in hundreds of systems across dozens of organizations in Ukraine.

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      2020 had its share of merorable hacks and breaches. Here are the top 10

      Dan Goodin · news.movim.eu / ArsTechnica · Monday, 28 December, 2020 - 12:46

    A cartoonish padlock has been photoshopped onto glowing computer chips.

    Enlarge (credit: Traitov | Getty Images )

    2020 was a tough year for a lot of reasons, not least of which were breaches and hacks that visited pain on end users, customers, and the organizations that were targeted. The ransomware menace dominated headlines, with an endless stream of compromises hitting schools, governments, and private companies as criminals demanded ransoms in the millions of dollars. There was a steady stream of data breaches as well. Several mass account takeovers made appearances, too.

    What follows are some of the highlights. For good measure, we’re also throwing in a couple notable hacks that, while not actively used in the wild, were impressive beyond measure or pushed the boundaries of security.

    The SolarWinds hack

    2020 saved the most devastating breach for last. Hackers that multiple public officials say are backed by the Russian government started by compromising the software distribution system of SolarWinds, the maker of network monitoring software that tens of thousands of organizations use. The hackers then used their position to deliver a backdoored update to about 18,000 customers. From there, the hackers had the ability to steal, destroy, or modify data on the networks of any of those customers.

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