This submission is for those who appreciate the type of computer esoterica that gyrates the synapses of the true brainiacs who bury themselves in computer algorithms, anonymous or hidden networks, random number generators, hash functions, encryption and dozens of other terms that are basically foreign to the general public.
It all started innocently enough. My intention was, and to a degree, still is, to enhance the National Security Agency (NSA) snooping story by adding myriad examples of same by people, government, law enforcement agencies, businesses and an endless stream of furtive and readily accessible intrusions into your life on virtually every level. Gentlemen, start your Politicus engines.
Just go through a traffic light? Smile; you’re on Red Light camera, or speed camera, or license camera or maybe a combo camera. Fleeing? Speeding? Running that red light? They’ll get you! Street video cameras are everywhere. Sometimes you see them, most of the time you’re unaware of their presence. Retail stores are loaded with ’em. Law enforcement on every level snoops all the time. They’ll affix a tracking device under your car so they know where said vehicle (with you in it) is located at all times.
Law enforcement will park discretely down the street eyeballing your house. They’ll wiretap your phone. They’ll get warrants to search your house. Snitches, known in the trade as CI’s (confidential informants), will wear a wire while mutually quaffing a beer at the corner tavern. A suddenly-scruffy cop will pretend to be a potential killer in case you decide to solicit a hit on the old man. And Officer “hit man” Krupke will also be wearing a wire. You’ll soon end up wearing prison garb.
There’s nothing that hasn’t been “bugged.” Houses, offices, restaurants, social clubs, hotel rooms, cars; wherever humans gather. If you’re under suspicion for something or you might be a big shot, be assured that electronic cockroaches are sure to follow. As for the millions of Americans endangered by NSA access, throw away your computer. Somewhere in its innards resides your name, birthplace and date of birth, spouse and kid’s names, current and former residences, college attendance, employment history, all manner of financial information, SS number, drivers license number, criminal records if applicable, any conversations on social media, mentions in any media for that matter, ancestors, your political leanings and comments (oops), all the bad stuff, some of the good stuff and if you forward emails, you might want to highlight and delete the forwarding history. There’s also the matter of your PlayStation BluRay movies being constantly monitored for pirating, accidental or otherwise.
A conversation with my highly computer literate adult son brings me to the last half of this effort. He’s made important and definitive contributions to its content and sources. Electronic, print and Internet media should dig very deeply into the misconception that encryption means protection of your information. It doesn’t. Retailer Target ring a bill? Let’s start with a disturbing development on the NSA front that is a fairly old story just gaining traction.
A Reuters report claims that NSA made a secret $10 million payment to vendor, RSA to persuade the company to intentionally incorporate a flawed random number generator into widely used security software. Breaking the random number generator would make it all the easier to compromise encryption protections to the benefit of NSA’s surveillance programs. Yikes!
The Reuters piece was a folo of September articles by ProPublica, The Guardian and the NY Times that were worded essentially the same based on revelations from whistle-blower, Edward Snowden. RSA has predictably responded with, “No way!” But wait; all were late to the party. This whole harangue goes back to the late 90’s when NSA requested the power from Congress to backdoor (have access to) all encryptions. The agency was turned down, so they sought their own devices to accomplish essentially the same goal.
If anyone could qualify as an expert in this encryption business, it would arguably be America’s foremost cryptographer and author on the subject, Bruce Schneier. Writing for Wired magazine back in November of ’07, Schneier accused NSA of creating its own ‘backdoor’ to allow for ease of snooping where the snoopee thought that he/she was protected.
Here’s the simple version. In 2007, the government created a new official standard for random number generators. There were four different techniques approved. Three were just dandy for the job at hand, HOWEVER, according to Schneier, the fourth technique was a sneaky attempt by NSA to approve a piece of crap based on elliptic curves that had but one purpose. In the article, Schneier posits that NSA’s strong favorite, “Dual EC DRBG, was little more than a pathway to easy backdoor access.
In 2006, NSA knew that DRBG had been beset with a series of vexing little problems, rendering it open to the access just described. In the Wired article, Schneier was endorsing the conclusions of a couple of A-list cryptographers who demonstrated at the August 2007 CRYPTO conference that these problems could represent a weakness that they described as backdoor. For progressive political comfort, all this came to the fore during the George W. Bush administration. That’s why you haven’t heard much about it.
The Schneier overarching concern was that a cyber-hooligan would solve just one instance of the elliptic-curve problem, publish the results and render application of the random-number generator “completely insecure.”
The snooping flap is an extraordinarily complex subject that reaches far beyond just protecting the country from global and domestic terrorists. Illustrative of this point is the tale of the Silk Road website. Simply put, it was an Internet front for the purchase of illegal drugs, paid for in the global unregulated ‘bitcoin’ virtual currency.
As reported by USA Today, Silk Raod used what was then an underground computer network, “The Onion Router”, more commonly known as “Tor.” Deep Web Tor now becomes available to the average Joe and Jill. Tor is considered one of the gold standards for protecting sites. Onion gained inclusion in the title because Tor is like peeling off layers of an onion where nobody can see beyond their own peeled layer. But the FBI outsmarted the power behind Silk Road’s massive operation, a bright young guy named Ross Ulbricht. Silk Road was the enabler for a $1.2 billion (at the time) worldwide drug enterprise (Ross’ cut was $80 million; it would be more today). He was arrested October 1st. in San Francisco. Agents cracked the case mostly through seizure of the website’s servers.
The case against Ulbricht, who went by the moniker, “Dread Pirate Roberts”, promises high melodrama. According to Forbes, Ulbricht denies he’s Roberts, but wants the estimated 30 plus million dollars (173,000 Bitcoins) recovered by the FBI, returned to him. He claims as virtual currency, Bitcoins are “not subject to seizure” under federal forfeiture laws.
I’ll let my true brainiac son sort this all out.