Seismic Shift, NYTimes Legitimizes Snowden vs. NSA, Der Spiegel Reveals NSA Hacked Computing Devices Massively

When the Gray Lady publishes an extra-long editorial telling the President that Snowden should be pardoned, and the liar Clapper tossed in the clink for repeatedly lying his head off to Congress, something is in the wind.

Note the title of the editorial. Suddenly “Whistle-Blower” is legitimate again.

The revelations have already prompted two federal judges to accuse the N.S.A. of violating the Constitution (although a third, unfortunately, found the dragnet surveillance to be legal). A panel appointed by President Obama issued a powerful indictment of the agency’s invasions of privacy and called for a major overhaul of its operations.

All of this is entirely because of information provided to journalists by Edward Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who stole a trove of highly classified documents after he became disillusioned with the agency’s voraciousness. Mr. Snowden is now living in Russia, on the run from American charges of espionage and theft, and he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower

Foreign Policy Magazine has named Snowden their Man of the Year.

The Man of the Year, of course, can be a villain, so long as he is a very consequential one.

But the harm Snowden has done has been blown up to ludicrous proportions. No evidence has yet emerged of crucial intelligence compromised by his disclosures, or for that matter of a case in which the NSA’s vast collection of private electronic data halted a terror plot. Has Snowden damaged relations with allies? Thomas Shannon, President Barack Obama’s former assistant secretary of state for Latin America, responded to Baker’s assertion by denying that the leaks had done any lasting harm to alliances in the region.

Shannon then added a remarkably eloquent impromptu summation of the meaning of the leaks. They “give us some insight about what the 21st century is going to be like,” Shannon said. “It’s really not about espionage. It’s about how new forms of technology, new forms of communication, and new forms of analyzing that information are going to radically change our understanding of privacy, radically change our understanding of political agency and behavior patterns, and what they mean for our societies as they try to connect to one another.”

Snowden may or may not be a hero — we really don’t have enough insight into the choices he made and the motives that drove him to render so profound a moral judgment — but his revelations have forced a debate that otherwise would not have existed. In recent interview in the Washington Post, Snowden said, “I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.” Such a fundamental debate does, by its nature, change society

The Man of the Year

The article in Der Spiegel goes into a lot of detail on the various operations by the secret TAO group inside the NSA, and is a must read. Here are just some samples of the revelations. The article is a must read, including how the group is using every hacking technique known to the Internet and computing, including subverting the Windows error message reporting system.

One of the two main buildings at the former plant has since housed a sophisticated NSA unit, one that has benefited the most from this expansion and has grown the fastest in recent years — the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. This is the NSA’s top operative unit — something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

The technical term for this type of activity is “Computer Network Exploitation” (CNE). The goal here is to “subvert endpoint devices,” according to an internal NSA presentation that SPIEGEL has viewed. The presentation goes on to list nearly all the types of devices that run our digital lives — “servers, workstations, firewalls, routers, handsets, phone switches, SCADA systems, etc.” SCADAs are industrial control systems used in factories, as well as in power plants. Anyone who can bring these systems under their control has the potential to knock out parts of a country’s critical infrastructure.

The most well-known and notorious use of this type of attack was the development of Stuxnet, the computer worm whose existence was discovered in June 2010. The virus was developed jointly by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, and successfully so. The country’s nuclear program was set back by years after Stuxnet manipulated the SCADA control technology used at Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities in Natanz, rendering up to 1,000 centrifuges unusable.

One of the hackers’ key tasks is the offensive infiltration of target computers with so-called implants or with large numbers of Trojans. They’ve bestowed their spying tools with illustrious monikers like “ANGRY NEIGHBOR,” “HOWLERMONKEY” or “WATERWITCH.” These names may sound cute, but the tools they describe are both aggressive and effective.

According to details in Washington’s current budget plan for the US intelligence services, around 85,000 computers worldwide are projected to be infiltrated by the NSA specialists by the end of this year. By far the majority of these “implants” are conducted by TAO teams via the Internet.

Having Fun at Microsoft’s Expense

One example of the sheer creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method they use that exploits the error-proneness of Microsoft’s Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the annoying window that occasionally pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, an automatic message that prompts the user to report the bug to the manufacturer and to restart the program. These crash reports offer TAO specialists a welcome opportunity to spy on computers.

Sometimes it appears that the world’s most modern spies are just as reliant on conventional methods of reconnaissance as their predecessors.

Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called “load stations,” agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.

These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the “most productive operations” conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks “around the world.”

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit

And Apple is now saying they are rather pissed to be told the NSA has been intercepting and hacking mobile phones communications, including text messages, and claim they were NOT party to it. Suddenly the NSA = “Malicious Hackers” according to Apple. Following is part of the official statement from Apple quoted in the link.

Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers’ privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements. Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers.

APPLE: We Had No Idea The NSA Has A Way To Spy On Your iPhone


Author: Ron