Saturday, February 21, 2015

Big Brother Running Amok: NSA/GCHQ Hack Huge SIM Card Producer

Stories of the NSA drive to in the words of retired boss General Keith Alexander “Collect It All”, have lately gone the way of “Deflategate” in the mainstream media but Big Brother never sleeps. We all need to understand that we live in the waning days of having any expectation of privacy and it is only a matter of time until big government is trying to get at what is inside our skulls too. This week there were two major reports of what the secret police have been up to yet the domestic media has largely stayed focused on the political rat race and various and sundry celebrity tales. This failure to engage in serious investigative journalism is exactly why guys like Brian Williams are able to land multi-million dollar jobs as the gatekeepers in the McNews industry.

The story with the most far reaching consequences is the allegation that the NSA and their counterparts across the pond in jolly old England - GCHQ - hacked into the world’s largest provider of SIM cards. Those are those little things inside everyone’s smartphones that allow for the protection of private data when communicating and engaging in financial transactions. Billions of cellphones worldwide could possibly be affected by this massive breach of encryption - maybe even yours.

Digital security company Gemalto NV was hacked by American and British spies to steal encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cellphone communications, news website Intercept reported, citing documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The hack by the National Security Agency (NSA) and UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) allowed the agencies to monitor a large portion of voice and data mobile communications around the world without permission from governments and telecom companies, according to the report.

A GCHQ spokesperson said the agency did not comment on intelligence matters. NSA could not be immediately reached for comment.
Gemalto makes smart chips for mobile phones, bank cards and biometric passports and counts Verizon and AT&T Inc among its 450 wireless network provider customers around the world.

The hack story was broken by the website The Intercept in a huge expose entitled “The Great SIM Heist:  How Spies Stole The Keys To The Encryption Castle” which is a long and detailed piece that is well worth the time spent reading it. Many will of course dismiss this out of hand because the documents about the hacking were provided by former government contractor turned NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden who is a controversial figure to put it mildly. However, in the days of a rogue government and the Obama regime’s ongoing war on journalists and whistleblowers it takes bold action to expose the scale of government criminality.

The other story, which is easily dismissed because it can simply be denounced as Putin propaganda is that of Russian computer security firm Kaspersky identifying the ability to embed spyware deep inside computer hard drives. According to the Reuters story “Russian researchers expose breakthrough U.S. spying program”:

The U.S. National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world's computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.
That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran's uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky's analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines declined to comment.

These stories are perfect examples of how the surveillance industrial complex has run amok and will continue to do so until lawmakers do their jobs. Our elected 'representatives' should subject the NSA to the type of rigorous oversight needed to prevent the ongoing digital rampage. The spooks and data vampires whose activities are funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars are not only gutting the Constitution but doing immense and irreparable damage to American tech businesses, especially in the new era of cloud computing.

Silicon Valley high-rollers understand this too and have been highly critical of the potential financial damage to their industries and have taken their concerns directly to Emperor Barack Obama himself. But Obama is a defender of the status quo and there will be no effort to reign in the data grabbers and snoopers on his watch. Don't look for it from Jeb Bush either if he is the next one to sit on the throne, especially since he just defended his brother's mass surveillance programs that "keep us safe".

One day Americans will be made to face the consequences of their complicity in allowing the wolves to be the ones charged with guarding the hen house and that day is rapidly approaching.