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  1. After promising so much the highly anticipated encrypted chat project Hemlis has come to an end. The software was left with too many obstacles to overcome, not least the absence of former Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde who was arrested and taken away to serve his jail sentence for copyright infringement last summer. During the summer of 2013 the Internet was abuzz with the revelations of Edward Snowden. The PRISM scandal exploded and suddenly everyone had confirmation that everything they do online can be stored and monitored on a staggering scale. As a direct result of this massive privacy breach, people around the world became motivated to fight back against what has developed into one of the biggest technology scandals of recent times. One of those groups consisted of former Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde, who together with friends and Flattr allies Linus Olsson and Leif Högberg began working on Hemlis, a messaging app for both iOS and Android. The aim of the game was for Hemlis (‘secret’ in Swedish) to provide absolute secrecy, with only the sender and recipient able to read messages – not middle men like prying governments. “People act differently if they think someone is listening in to their conversation. That’s what Stasi taught us for instance. It’s one of many reasons why privacy is so vital,†Sunde told TF at the time. But with hundreds of news articles behind them and the two-year anniversary of the project’s birth just around the corner, the Hemlis team have now delivered the ultimate in bad news. “Lately we have been awfully quiet. The reasons are many, sad and non important right now. They have though made this project drag along and that made us understand a thing we feared for quite a while but neglected to accept. New messengers fail miserably,†the team said in a statement. “Each new attempt has made us understand that our goal of creating a mass market messenger just based on the fact that it is private, secure and beautiful, is not nearly enough. As the only reason we are doing this is to give you viable huge scale alternative to the existing systems there is really only one thing to do at this stage. Accept our current roadmap and goals as defunct.†While there were many reasons for the project to succeed, the challenges faced by the Hemlis team proved insurmountable. At least initially, financing wasn’t a problem, with around $150,000 raised via a short crowd-funding campaign. Then disaster struck when around $30,000 disappeared after a bitcoin wallet was stolen from Hemlis’ bitcoin supplier. Keeping up with the budgets of the competition also took its toll. “We decided to hire some people to help us out with the things we are not experts in. The process was slow and hit with lots of realizations that certain things would not work. The ideas were too complex and sometimes just too expensive,†Peter Sunde explains. “We had a lot of money, but far away [from] the same amount (we’re talking millions or billions) that our competitors had access to… They’ve had more progress and financial support so they could speed up their process to the level that they’re now really good. Better than our messaging app could become right now. Ok, they’re missing on features but they have the ability and cash to resolve those issues. And our goal was always to ensure that the everyday users would be protected.†But financial and technical issues aside, personal issues also played a big part in the project’s demise. “In the middle of it all one of our team members got a kid and had to focus on that of course. I personally had other issues as I got kidnapped by the Swedish government and locked up for my work with another project – The Pirate Bay. In the middle of the kidnapping, my father died,†Sunde explains. “I had no way of working on anything, and I’ve had a hard time with how I personally need to handle things. This project – as well as the other projects I’m involved in – were hit massively by my absence. And they still are, since I have not been able to get 100% on my feet yet. I’m getting there but just as with other things, it takes a lot of time.†A few weeks ago Sunde said the team took a step back to assess its position. While decent apps for both iOS and Android exist semi-completed, Hemlis is far from a market-ready product. More time and money would be need to be pumped in for it to succeed. “We decided that we could go two ways. We could ask for more money (a lot), either from the community or some investors. Or we could close down. Since we already got money from the community with way too little to show back from the expectations that felt wrong,†Sunde explains. “And we don’t think that it would be a good idea to ask investors for money since we’d lose control over the project. So in the end, closing it down felt like the least bad thing to do.†While many supporters of the project are supportive of the brave decision to close Hemlis down, others have been more critical. Some, having pumped money into the project and received nothing, are downright angry. Nevertheless, one of the big takeaways is that in some shape or form, will be handed back to its backers. “We’ll release the usable parts of the code as free software with the most free license we can. It belongs to the community (and the community paid for it),†Sunde says, adding that there may be other ways to achieve similar aims. “I’m personally trying to influence people and politicians to make sure we don’t need systems like We should be protected by the governments instead of trying to protect ourselves from them. It’s a multi-angle attack needed, technology, political work and transparency,†Sunde concludes.
  2. Summary: More documents leaked by Edward Snowden serve to validate claims that Skype is about as bad as one can get when it comes to private communication. GIVEN Microsoft’s very special relationship with the the NSA we were never shocked to learn about spying on Skype users (both audio and video, in real time even). Days ago more information was made available. One journalist said that the new documents show spy agencies could grab all Skype traffic. To quote: “A National Security Agency document published this week by the German news magazine Der Spiegel from the trove provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shows that the agency had full access to voice, video, text messaging, and file sharing from targeted individuals over Microsoft’s Skype service. The access, mandated by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant, was part of the NSA’s PRISM program and allowed “sustained Skype collection†in real time from specific users identified by their Skype user names.†Here is another take which quotes: “The nature of the Skype data collection was spelled out in an NSA document dated August 2012 entitled “User’s Guide for PRISM Skype Collection.†The document details how to “task†the capture of voice communications from Skype by NSA’s NUCLEON system, which allows for text searches against captured voice communications. It also discusses how to find text chat and other data sent between clients in NSA’s PINWALE “digital network intelligence†database. “The full capture of voice traffic began in February of 2011 for “Skype in†and “Skype out†calls—calls between a Skype user and a land line or cellphone through a gateway to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), captured through warranted taps into Microsoft’s gateways. But in July of 2011, the NSA added the capability of capturing peer-to-peer Skype communications—meaning that the NSA gained the ability to capture peer-to-peer traffic and decrypt it using keys provided by Microsoft through the PRISM warrant request.†The authors of the original article previously linked to our Wiki page about Skype and also some articles we wrote about Skype. We wrote about this well before Microsoft bought Skype (proprietary software) and years before the NSA leaks. Thanks to Snowden they now have it confirmed as truth with original documents to prove/validate it.
  3. Recently released Snowden’s NSA documents published by the German magazine Spiegel reveal the NSA has a dedicated team to crack VPN traffic and feed it to their data mining software. The documents list over 200 commercial VPN providers, like Astrill, CyberGhostVPN, iPredator and PrivateInternetAccess (PIA), they include companies that no longer exist like Xerobank and also name small VPN providers. One of the leaked NSA slides says that copyright violators, pedophiles and Internet scam artists all use Internet anonymity, highlighting that terrorists using anonymity are the NSA main concern, however, this is a three year old document and contemporary news indicate that the NSA and GCHQ now also have orders of using their skills to hunt down pedophiles on the Internet. The 51 pages long slide titled “Internet Anonymity 2011†starts explaining the differences in between encryption and Internet anonymity, contrasting how encryption hides content and VPNs hide metadata, which is important for the NSA. There are commentaries in favour and against Internet anonymity and it briefly introduces the different proxies and VPN protocols available (PPTP; SSH; OpenVPN; L2TP; SSTP). A short analysis spells out how commercial VPN providers work and exposes that the NSA is listing all servers VPN providers have, with a noted complaint about a free VPN provider called HotSpotShield because their list of servers is not readily available for the NSA and the staff has to reverse engineer them. After VPN traffic has been decrypted, everything is stored in XKEYSCORE, a Google like supercomputer used by the NSA to quickly search for specific words or computer IPs. NSA VPN exploit To crack OpenVPN the NSA advises to use XKEYSCORE with X.509 digital certificates, it then shows some real examples of how they fingerprint HostSpotShield, Easy hide IP, Comodo VPN Trust Connect and SecurityKiss, enumerating the ports each service is using with references to their RSA key. Other documents mention that the NSA is aiming at processing 100,000 requests per hour by 2011, this means that they should be able to decrypt and reinject data of 100,000 VPN users, a capability that I am guessing will have considerably increased since then. There are comparisons in between single hop proxies, picking as example Psiphon, multihop proxies that pick JonDo as example and Tor, the comparison lists the advantages and disadvantages of each one of the methods and ends with the conclusion that Tor remains the safest anonymous proxy available. According to the NSA, “sophisticated targets†use Tor to access terrorist forums, it specifically names the terrorist forums al-Faloja, CEMF, al-Hisbah, shumukh, using this as the main reason why the NSA needs to identify Tor traffic, which apparently is hard to do. The only breakthrough the NSA mentions is the capability they have of identifying a few Tor servers, due to their unique characteristics of random digital certificate issuers and the certificates being always only valid for 2 hours. NSA VPN providers The secret documents call the Torbutton a “thorn in the side of SIGINT†(intelligence gathering) because it disables all active content and they have no work around. To crack Tor the presentation recommends “implanting a web server with poisoned content intended for target“, which in plain language means getting the target to download a file infected with a trojan horse. A different 43 pages long NSA presentation gives more technical details about VPN traffic cracking and they mention that all branches have a specialist VPN representative to spy on a target. The same presentation says that the VPN team provides vulnerability analysis and suggests alternative approaches if exploitation is unrealistic. In one particular slide, the NSA stresses in capital letters that VPN exploits are POTENTIAL, depending on many different factors. The second presentation illustrates the NSA success cracking PPTP traffic and goes onto name Iran Air, the Afghan government, Turkish diplomats and Kabul bank as some of those using PPTP to secure their communications. The NSA justification for spying on bank communications is that by following the money they find who is at the other end. And one very important reminder adds on the last page that “If it’s not exploitable now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be later“. GCHQ Tor exploit PPTP has been considered insecure for a long time, these documents not only confirm it, they also illustrate that it is being exploited on a daily basis. If you use a VPN make sure to only connect with the most secure protocol, OpenVPN. A second security measure should be to only sign up with a VPN company that has competent security staff, the NSA VPN exploitation for OpenVPN appears to rely on finding the pre-shared key. Other jewels found on the leaked documents are that the NSA admits to not being able to crack PGP encryption and OTR (Off-the-Record Messaging), two of the documents show metadata without any transcription for the conversation, marked by NSA staff with the sentence “no decrypt available for PGP encrypted message“. As for remailers, the “Internet Anonymity†NSA slides disclose that the agency considers Mixmaster and Mixminion the most secure remailers due to their high latency, adding that they are hardly used by anybody. Without a doubt, the leaks show that the NSA has lots of interests in wiretapping VPN traffic. People worried about illegal spying could stick to Tor since the NSA admits that they can’t crack it, but a different GCHQ (UK secret service) presentation leaked in the same article and titled “potential technique to deanonymise Tor users“, mentions that the UK secret services is considering using Tor exit nodes they own to help them deanonymise Tor users, the presentation is highly technical and appears to be a future project, that, if it has been implemented, means that the GCHQ has deployed their own honeypot Tor exit nodes to log all traffic and with it any passwords you enter. I can only see two solutions for the paranoid, one of them, is using double authentication to login to the VPN, you could use a key based SSH login with PuTTY, this places the encryption keys in your power and not in the server, this way only a trojan horse could steal your keys. The second solution, is to combine a VPN with Tor, which will slow down your Internet browsing. More information: By HACKER10
  4. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor, provided previously unreported allegations of NSA cyberattack instruments, including a piece of software codenamed MonsterMind, which would automate a hostile response when detecting a network intrusion. In addition, Snowden also alleged that a 2012 incident, which took Syria’s web offline, was also the fault of the National Security Agency. Snowden claimed that he actually left detectable digital traces of his theft of documents from the technically sophisticated agency, allowing it to know precisely what he took. However, for some reason, making a specific determination of the extent of the data breach has escaped the NSA, and the agency has made vast and dire claims about the damage Edward caused. During its digital forensics investigation into the Snowden disclosures, the NSA claimed that it “wouldn’t dispute†that Edward took with him from the NSA 1.7m documents, although this is actually the number of documents that Edward was able to access, not what he actually took. So, if Edward’s allegation is true, it raises questions about the technical expertise and competence of the NSA investigation. Moreover, this would also call into question assurances that the NSA has implemented robust post technical defenses to forestall another mass leak of secret data. When Snowden received asylum in Russia after his plans for asylum in Latin America were blocked by US government officials, he thought the NSA would have a hard time, but he didn’t figure they would be completely incapable. Earlier this year, the Defense Intelligence Agency admitted that the intelligence community’s understanding of how much Snowden stole was a blanket assessment rather than verified fact. Such assessment provided National Security Agency with a basis for publicly alleging that Edward had done widespread damage to American intelligence efforts worldwide, endangered the national military personnel and prompted terrorist organizations to harden their cyber defenses. However, the authorities failed to provide public evidence for any of those assertions. Snowden also told about previously unknown NSA efforts concerning cyberattacks: the MonsterMind software, for instance, is a digital instrument that can detect the beginnings of a hostile cyber incursion and automate a hostile response. Another allegation was about the elite NSA hacking unit, Tailored Access Operations, which accidentally cut off Syria’s Internet access two years ago, when trying to install an exploit in the hardware of an unnamed service provider which would have provided the US with mass access to internet usage.
  5. Nine out of 10 account holders in a cache of intercepted communications were not the intended targets, according to the Washington Post. The vast majority of Internet users swept up in National Security Agency during surveillance of digital networks were not from intended targets, according to the Washington Post. A four-month study of a cache of intercepted conversations provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that nine out of 10 account holders in the cache "were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else," the newspaper wrote. Many of those unintended targets were ordinary Internet users, including Americans, according to a review of 160,000 intercepted emails and instant message conversations, the paper reported. Nearly half of the files reviewed contained names, emails, and other information that the agency identified as belonging to US citizens or residents. While the NSA masked more than 65,000 references, the Post said it found nearly 900 references that could linked to US citizens or residents. The Post did not describe the conversations in detail but did say that the cache contained "fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks." The surveillance led to the capture of terrorism suspects, including Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. However, many files, marked as useless by analysts, have a voyeuristic quality, describing intimate issues such as love, illicit sexual relations, political and religious conversions, and financial anxieties, the Post said. The foreign surveillance agency may legally target only foreign nationals located overseas unless a warrant is obtained from a special surveillance court. In 2008, section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorized the controversial PRISM program to access non-US residents' emails, social networking, and cloud-stored data.