In episode 16 of the Privacy Blog Podcast for January, Twenty Fourteen I talk about:Biological Advanced Persistent Threats The Apps on your mobile devices that may be enabling surveillance Why you may soon know more about how much information your service providers are revealing to the government The total compromise of the TorMail anonymous email service How the British government is using pornography as a trojan horse for Internet Censorship. And finally why continued use of a deprecated cryptographic signature algorithm could undermine the security of the Web
Turkey Debates New Law to Control Web Users - Emerging Europe Real Time - WSJ Turkey already requests more takedowns from Google than any other country in the world, almost 1700 in the first half of 2013. They have a history of blocking popular websites like Youtube, and Vimeo, and Prime Minister Erdogan lashes out against Twitter at every opportunity.
Now the government is about to enact sweeping new powers to force providers to keep complete records of all user activity for 2 years, and give the government total access to that information.
This appears to be a reaction to citizen use of social media to coordinate protests and spread information about Turkish government corruption.
Unless they implement a ban on privacy technologies, VPN services like Anonymizer Universal will provide a way of getting around this kind of logging. I would strongly suggest that people in Turkey make a habit of always using VPNs, and moving to search engines, email, and social media platforms located outside of the country.
The South China Morning Post reports that the ban on Facebook, Twitter, the New York Times, and many other sites, will be lifted, but only in the Shanghai free-trade zone.
The information came from anonymous government sources within China. The purpose is to make the zone more attractive to foreign companies and workers who expect open Internet access. The sources say that the more open access may be expanded into the surrounding territory if the experiment is successful.
It will be interesting to see if this actually comes to pass.
Two questions occur to me. First, will the free-trade zone be considered to be outside the firewall, and hard to access from within the rest of China? Second, is this as much about surveillance of activity on those websites as it is about providing free access?
Wired reports on a move by the Japanese government to ask websites to block users who "abuse" TOR.
I assume that TOR is being used as an example, and it would apply to any secure privacy tool.
The interesting question is whether this is simply a foot in the door on the way to banning anonymity, or at least making its use evidence of evil intent.
Currently, public privacy services make little effort to hide themselves. Traffic from them is easily detected as being from an anonymity system. If blocking becomes common, many systems may start implementing more effective stealth systems, which would make filtering anonymity for security reasons even harder.
According to the Telegraph, the UK government is instituting a code of conduct for public WiFi which would require blocking of pornography to protect kids.
I see a couple of problems here.
1) Porn proliferates very quickly, so the blocking is likely to always be behind the curve, and kids are really good at getting around these kinds of blocks.
2) Some people will feel that things are allowed that should be blocked.
3) Inevitably legitimate websites will be blocked. A common example is breast feeding web sties, which frequently get caught in these kinds of nets.
4) Implementing this requires active monitoring of the activity on the WiFi which generally enables other kinds of surveillance.
Most home networks don't have filtering on the whole network, so kids at home would be exposed to raw Internet. The standard is generally to filter at the end device. It seems to me that would be the best option here.
Parents could choose exactly the blocking technology and philosophy they want to have applied, and it does not impact anyone else.
It appears that China recently launched a poorly executed Man in the Middle (MITM) attack on GitHub.
GitHub.com is an https only website, so the only way to monitor it is to use a MITM attack to decrypt the contents of the communications. There is evidence that GitHub is widely used in China for code sharing, so the backlash from blocking it completely was too large, and it was unblocked a few days later.
The attack happened on January 26. It was poorly executed in that the faked certificate did not match the real one in any of the meta-data and it was not signed by a recognized certificate authority. This caused most browsers to report a security error. The MITM attack only lasted about an hour.
Based on reports it only impacted users in China, which strongly suggests that it was government backed at some level. My work in censorship circumvention over the years has shown that China is far from monolithic. This could have been the work of a local government or regional ISP. I have not seen an analysis showing if this was country wide or not. It seems very ham fisted for the central government.
The speculated reason for the attack is to monitor access to a list of people who have been involved in creating the Great Firewall of China, which is hosted on GitHub, and is connected to a petition on Whitehouse.gov proposing that those people be denied entry to the US.
Fast Company has a good article laying out the state of events regarding the Internet in Syria.
Here is the short version. Syria has changed tactics from keeping the Internet available but highly monitored and surveilled, to turning off apparently absolutely all Internet connectivity within the country.
Syria was unique in its cyber response to their Arab Spring uprisings. Rather than lock down the Internet, they actually un-blocked some popular social media sites. They did this because of the incredible surveillance capabilities this makes possible. Business Week has a nice story on this aspect.
The change of face would seem to have a few possible reasons.
1) Dissident tactics like encryption are making the surveillance less effective.
2) The damage from dissident publishing is greater than the value of the intelligence.
3) The Syrian government is about to do something really nasty and they want to make it very hard to report about it.
We shall see. The fact that the Syrian government appears to have turned off even its own Internet access suggests that they are worried about any leaks through the wall, which makes reason 3 seem more probable.
The number of information requests coming to Google from governments around the world is growing fast. It is up 55% for the first half of 2012 vs. the first half of 2010. The linked article has some nice graphs showing the trend.
It is interesting to note that the US leads the world with over a third of the total requests, followed by India then Brazil.
The other even faster trend is in takedown requests. Since they are s search engine, not a host, this is really pure censorship. It is up 88% between the first half of 2011 and the first half of 2012. That is a true hockey stick. A lot of it appears to be trying to suppress criticism of government or government activities.
The more such information is gathered, the more important it is to take control of your own personal privacy.
In the tradition of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is "The Dictator's Practical Guide to Internet Power Retention, Global Edition".
Under the pretext of being a guide on how to crack down on Internet dissent for dictators, it does a nice job of analyzing how the Internet is used by dissidents, and the techniques used by governments to crack down on those practices.
Thanks to boingboing for bringing this to my attention.
This article from Threatpost discusses a study out of CMU of Chinese censorship of their home grown social networking websites.
Now that they are blocking most of the western social media sites entirely, the focus of censorship is internal. Obviously blocking the internal sites as well would defeat the purpose, so they are selectively deleting posts instead. This study looks at the rate at which posts with sensitive key words are removed from the services.
It clearly shows how censorship can be taken to the next level when the censor controls the websites as well as the network.
I am very excited to be organizing a couple of panels at this year's "Computers Freedom and Privacy" (CFP) Conference in San Jose June 15-18.
Historically the conference has focused on personal privacy / freedom issues, technologies, and policies. That was certainly my focus as well when I started Anonymizer. Over time I have become aware of some other aspects to the privacy issue that I have not seen discussed. In addition to corporations impacting privacy of their customers, users, employees, etc. they also have issues and needs for privacy themselves.
Companies activities are monitored, analyzed, blocked, misinformed, and censored. While these have analogs in the personal privacy world, the details, impacts and scale, and solutions to the problems are often very different.
I am organizing a panel to discuss these issues at the conference and would love to hear from others who may have experienced these kinds of issues and would be willing and able to share them at this conference.
Google Runs Into Chinas Great Firewall - WSJ.com This article reports on an outage experienced by Google users in China. At first Google thought it was due to a technical issue, but now think that it was an intentional outage caused by the Great Firewall of China. It seems likely that this was a retaliation to punish Google for its statements and actions.
From the Official Google Blog (follow link for the whole post):
So earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Google.com.hk. Due to the increased load on our Hong Kong servers and the complicated nature of these changes, users may see some slowdown in service or find some products temporarily inaccessible as we switch everything over.
I would expect to see China censor Google.cn very quickly (which would prevent the re-direct to Google.hk). It will be interesting to see if China will then take the next step of censoring Google.hk and possibly other Google properties around the world. It would be easy for Google to set up any or all of them to return results in chinese if the browser is detected to be configured in that language.
Tor partially blocked in China | The Tor Blog That last article lead me to this post on the TOR blog from September 15, 2009 (I am a bit late to this party). China is now blocking about 80% of the public TOR nodes.
This mostly ends a rather baffling situation where for some reason the Chinese were failing to block TOR even though it was being used effectively for censorship circumvention, the list of nodes is publicly available, and they are no more difficult to block than any other server.
Official Google Blog: A new approach to China Google is officially stating that a number of email accounts hosted by Google were attacked from within China. The accounts seem to be mostly connected to Chinese human rights activists. They also state that this is part of a larger pattern extending over a number of other companies.
The most amazing thing about this is the very aggressive pro-privacy stance Google is taking in response to this. They are saying that they will stop censoring search results at Google.cn. That they will talk with the Chinese about how to do this, but are willing to completely pull out of operations in China if they can't provide un-censored content from within.
The post is worth reading in full. Here are the concluding paragraphs:
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.
The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.
Wow. We shall see.
Google and India Test the Limits of Liberty - WSJ.com In this case, it is not the search engine, but their social networking site "Orkut" which is the issue. Google's troubles stem less from their actions than the fact that they are the dominant social networking site in India, and so most of those issues happen on that site.
Google has been forced to take down a lot of content, and hand over the identities of many posters. If the examples in the article are to be believed, the threshold for censorship is not high.
At the risk of repeating myself, if you live in India and you want to say something that might push or cross the line, do it with robust anonymity technology. You might still have your post taken down, but they can't come after you.
A long time customer recently sent in the following question. Since it should be of broad interest, I asked his permission to anonymous post and answer it here.
How do you know that subscribing to an anonymizer does not simply mark you for observation? We all know the NSA is capable of intercepting any electronic communication, and with gajillions of electronic communications happening every second, how would the NSA (or the FBI or the CIA or whoever it is who watches us) know which of those communications to watch? Seems like the people wanting anonymity would be the first on the list. Surely they COULD, couldn't they? That is, get the subscriber lists, which would enable them to intercept communications this side of the proxy - i.e., intercept on the way out, on the way TO the proxy, BEFORE it gets securely tunneled? And no, that would not be possible with the web, but it would with email. Supposedly. This is what has been proposed to me. What do you think? Does it have any validity?
It is certainly the case that the government could, in principle, monitor your access to privacy services. As long as that access is over a strongly encrypted connection, the contents of your communication, what sites you are visiting or who you are communicating with would be protected. The strength of your anonymity is then largely determined by the number of other users of the same service with which your traffic is being mixed.
In the United States, the use of privacy tools is not restricted. Strict separation of intelligence from law enforcement functions should prevent drift net monitoring of your use of Anonymizer from leading to any kind of legal investigation. The huge number of Anonymizer subscribers would also make this difficult and highly visible.
Outside of the US it is another story. Many countries exercise much greater control over the Internet. Even if it were not blocked by the Iranian government, accessing the Anonymizer website from within Iran would be a risky activity. Once again, the key here is safety in numbers. We have run anti-censorship tools in Iran that supported over 100,000 users. With those numbers, it is awkward for the government to go after people simply for using the service. This is not to say that if you are already under observation for some other reason that it would not give them added ammunition. Privacy tools are generally very effective at keeping you below the radar, but can be much less effective once you are on the radar for whatever reason.
The reality is that there is no evidence of widespread Internet surveillance being used in the US to track users of privacy services. As long as the connection to the service is well encrypted, you should be fine.
YouTube Korea squelches uploads, comments | Digital Media - CNET News I am very pleased that Google is taking a stand against Korean anti-privacy laws. The law in question requires large Internet services (like YouTube) to collect real name information about any user posting content or comments. In response, Google has completely cut off any posting or commenting through the Korean version of the site. The solution Google proposes is that users should simply log in to a non-Korean version of the site and post away. This way Google never needs to capture identifying information.
It will be interesting to see if Korea responds by trying to block access to all non-Korean versions of YouTube. Obviously anonymity tools provide an excellent end run around this kind of restriction.
I find myself of two minds on how to feel about this action. On the one hand, it respects Korea's right to set its own laws within its borders, without allowing any one country to dictate how the rest of the world will use such tools. On the other hand, I find such anti-privacy policies so repugnant, I would like to see companies simply refuse to comply and pull hardware out of that country while continuing to provide the service.