Wiretaps, no-fly lists, and suing AT&T

Eavesdropping is an art form


Computers, Freedom and Privacy "What are you doing these days?"

"Suing AT&T."

Ah, eavesdropping.

Day three of the ACM Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference.

The above speaker is Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. His lawsuit ("Hepting") is more complex than the others brought over the Terrorist Screening Program in that it includes the telcos, and more technical because it includes evidence from a whistleblowing retired employee.

Tien has a great map of the wiretapping suits against AT&T in the US. There were only a few dots scattered east to west before USA Today published the news that the government, AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South were wiretapping US citizens. The map broke out in chicken pox a few weeks later. Today, there are just two spots.

And Tien is upbeat.

He needs to be. Most of "suing AT&T" is waiting. And waiting some more.

And now for a word from our sponsor: you have until 8 May to register your comments on the US Real ID card. Go here for details how.

In fact, it has become much, much easier for states to wiretap undetectably. Matt Blaze and George Danezis used the Greek wiretapping scandal as a case study in what can go wrong, based on the work of Vassilis Prevelakis and Diomidis Spinellis.

The public image of wiretapping is the man in a black van plugging a headset into a box full of wires. The US's market size and vendor dominance means that CALEA, which requires a wiretapping interface in telecommunications equipment, has been exported to the rest of the world. US vendors build to US law. Foreign vendors who want access to US markets also build to US law. Foreign governments help their nation's businesses by choosing the same standards the US has already dictated.

A security hole is a security hole is a security hole. The Greek attackers depended on tried and trusted techniques, including programming in a proprietary Ericsson language so obscure that no one can find a manual for it online. What eventually exposed them was their one bit of creative engineering. But it was, noted Blaze, a "relatively low-tech attack against a high-tech system". Cost: probably $50,000 to $100,000. Be the envy of other minor organisations.

If there's one thing this crowd would probably like to wiretap it's the decision-making process for populating (and depopulating) the no-fly and terrorist watch lists.

Lyn Rahilly, privacy officer for the Terrorist Screening Center, and Tim Edgar, deputy civil liberties protection officer from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, explained that you can get off the no-fly list. If you were ever on it, and it doesn't mean you're an (alleged) terrorist, and anyway we can't confirm. Or deny.

But who needs wiretaps when you have Google? ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022