Spy

Part 5 of 7 in the series Manchurian Candidates

The perfect deep-cover agent…is the one who doesn’t know he or she is an agent. — Telefon (1975)

Spy gadgets
 
Spy gadgets
 
Wi-fi Networks Security

“Spy or surveillance devices are actually growing their recognition,” writes the My Great Surveillance Gadgets website:

Due to the developments in the style of cell phones, the interface of GSM bugs within the phones grew to become possible. Also, the bond of surveillance camera also grew to become possible even just in cigarette matches, vehicle key fobs, pens, IDs along with other regular daily tool. The spy gadget appears like an regular gadget having a built-in camera with recording abilities.7

“While inspecting shipments from China, Russian customs agents found something odd,” writes Joshua Philipp for Epoch Times:

Inside several of the kettles and irons they found WiFi chips and microprocessors. If the devices were plugged in, the chips would search for unsecured WiFi networks up to 650 feet away, then ‘call home’ to grant access to cybercriminals.…

In June 2010, an auto-run virus in China-made memory cards in Olympus Stylus Tough cameras was infecting computers in Japan. The virus was uncovered just a week after an identical virus was in the memory cards of Samsung smartphones. Prior to that were viruses in devices including China-made TomTom GPS systems, and Insignia digital picture frames sold at major outlets, including Best Buy, Target, and Sam’s Club.

While the recently discovered chips in kettles and irons were among the more bizarre cases, they were also among the least sophisticated. They only targeted WiFi networks not protected with passwords. In Russia, where the devices were found, this would have been a threat. In the United States, where most networks are protected, it wouldn’t be much of a threat.

Yet, the concern is less about the chips themselves, and instead what they could mean for the future of cyberthreats.… Some of the most common vulnerabilities are “backdoors” left in products. These can resemble programming errors left by the creators – the nature of which makes it difficult to prove whether the backdoors are intentional or unintentional.…

“China is known to be the major perpetrator of cyber espionage, and Huawei and ZTE [routers] failed to alleviate serious concerns throughout this important investigation,” said Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in a press release. “American businesses should use other vendors.” 8

“In a research paper describing its findings, Team Cymru said it had first seen routers from several different manufacturers being compromised in January 2014,” reports BBC News:

Once routers were taken over, internal instructions were changed so they no longer asked servers at their owner’s ISP for help looking up the location of websites they regularly visit.

This would mean that the attackers could re-direct people to anywhere they wanted, inject their own adverts into web pages people visit or poison the search results they get.9

“A new U.S. law and accompanying new standard that aim to ensure quality and security could also put a serious damper on China’s hopes for a high-tech economy,” writes The Epoch Times:

Driving the shift is the 2014 U.S. federal budget, passed on Jan. 17. It includes a new law that requires federal review and approval on information technology (IT) products purchased by federal government agencies. The review will check for risks of cyberespionage or sabotage, and bans products with supply chains tainted by elements that pose cyberthreats – which includes anything “that may be owned, directed, or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China.”…

Businesses that are trying to certify a product will need to track and rate suppliers, and if a supplier engages in an activity that violates that trust – such as installing malware or counterfeiting a product – the company can be blacklisted.…

The extent of the problem was highlighted in May 2012 when the Senate House Armed Services Committee released a report showing that counterfeit electronic parts from China had found their way into U.S. military vehicles, including a Navy surveillance plane.

The report concluded that “China is the dominant source country for counterfeit electronic parts that are infiltrating the defense supply chain,” and “The Chinese government has failed to take steps to stop counterfeiting operations that are carried out openly in that country.” 10

 
NSA infographic

Conversnitch

Smartphone photo GPS

Smartphone infrared hack

To “‘enable remote exploitation,’… the National Security Agency is secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using ‘cookies’ and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance,” write Ashkan Soltani, Andrea Peterson, and Barton Gellman for The Washington Post:

The intelligence agencies have found particular use for a part of a Google-specific tracking mechanism known as the “PREF” cookie. These cookies typically don’t contain personal information, such as someone’s name or e-mail address, but they do contain numeric codes that enable Web sites to uniquely identify a person’s browser.

In addition to tracking Web visits, this cookie allows NSA to single out an individual’s communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person’s computer.11

The Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, “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,” writes Spiegel Online:

According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO’s area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO’s disposal have become — and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.12

“In cases where TAO’s usual hacking and data-skimming methods don’t suffice, ANT workers step in with their special tools, penetrating networking equipment, monitoring mobile phones and computers and diverting or even modifying data,” write Jacob Appelbaum, Judith Horchert and Christian Stöcker for Spiegel.

Such “implants,” as they are referred to in NSA parlance, have played a considerable role in the intelligence agency’s ability to establish a global covert network that operates alongside the Internet.

Some of the equipment available is quite inexpensive. A rigged monitor cable that allows “TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor,” for example, is available for just $30. But an “active GSM base station” – a tool that makes it possible to mimic a mobile phone tower and thus monitor cell phones – costs a full $40,000. Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data via radio undetected, are available in packs of 50 for over $1 million.

The ANT division doesn’t just manufacture surveillance hardware. It also develops software for special tasks. The ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer’s motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on.

This has a number of valuable advantages: an infected PC or server appears to be functioning normally, so the infection remains invisible to virus protection and other security programs. And even if the hard drive of an infected computer has been completely erased and a new operating system is installed, the ANT malware can continue to function and ensures that new spyware can once again be loaded onto what is presumed to be a clean computer. The ANT developers call this “Persistence” and believe this approach has provided them with the possibility of permanent access.13

“The [TAO] unit, formed in 1997, has hacked 258 targets in nearly every country in the world, according to Der Spiegel,” notes Courtney Subramanian for Time World.14

“The government’s use of digital technology for widespread data-gathering on citizens has focused mostly on federal entities such as the National Security Agency,” writes Stephen Lawson for PC World:

But local law enforcement has also come under attack for the use of technologies such as stingrays and small, unmanned “drone” aircraft.…

Stingrays…are small portable devices that appear to nearby phones as if they are real cellular base stations. When a stingray is nearby, phones will automatically connect to it as if it were the nearest cell tower. Law enforcement most commonly uses the devices to track the location of phones, though there are stingrays that can monitor calls, Staff Attorney Linda Lye wrote in [a American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California] blog post.15

“Britain’s spy agency GCHQ intercepted millions of people’s webcam chats and stored still images of them, including sexually explicit ones, the Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday [27 February 2014],” writes Julia Fioretti for Reuters:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 provided to the newspaper by the former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, revealed that the surveillance program, codenamed Optic Nerve, saved one image every five minutes from randomly selected Yahoo Inc webcam chats and stored them on agency databases.

Optic Nerve, which began as a prototype in 2008 and was still active in 2012, was intended to test automated facial recognition, monitor GCHQ’s targets and uncover new ones, the Guardian said. It said that under British law, there are no restrictions preventing images of U.S. citizens being accessed by British intelligence.

GCHQ collected images from the webcam chats of more than 1.8 million users globally in a six-month period in 2008 alone, the newspaper reported.16

Farm Press blogger Hembree Brandon relates the government spying on gamers:

As for Xbox and “World of Warcraft,” it has been reported that there were so many federal agents playing the video game that a “deconfliction” group was created to make sure government agents weren’t accidentally spying on each other.

No one knows, of course, how much manpower (or how many of your tax dollars) went into this exercise, but it is reported that no meaningful information was obtained about any potential terrorist activity.17

“Award-winning Guardian journalist Luke Harding says paragraphs of his writing mysteriously disappeared when he was working on his latest book, “The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man,” reports the DemocracyNow.org website in his interview with Amy Goodman:

“I wrote that Snowden’s revelations had damaged U.S. tech companies and their bottom line. Something odd happened,” wrote Harding in The Guardian. “The paragraph I had just written began to self-delete. The cursor moved rapidly from the left, gobbling text. I watched my words vanish.” 18

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7 My Great Surveillance Gadgets, at http://www.mysurveillancegadgets.org/ (retrieved: 12 December 2013).

8 Joshua Philipp, “Is Your Iron Spying on You? Pre-hacked electronics come straight from China’s factories,” The Epoch Times, 28 November 2013, at http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/366229-pre-hacked-electronics-come-straight-from-chinas-factories/ (retrieved: 12 December 2013).

9 “Hackers take control of 300,000 home routers,” BBC News, 3 March 2014, at http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-26417441 (retrieved: 4 March 2014).

10 Joshua Philipp, “US Govt Squeezes Hi-Tech Security Threats – and China,” The Epoch Times, 18 February 2014, at http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/514968-us-govt-squeezes-hi-tech-security-threats-and-china/ (retrieved: 28 February 2014).

11 Ashkan Soltani, Andrea Peterson, and Barton Gellman, “NSA uses Google cookies to pinpoint targets for hacking,” The Washington Post, 10 December 2013, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/12/10/nsa-uses-google-cookies-to-pinpoint-targets-for-hacking/ (retrieved: 12 December 2013).

12 Jacob Appelbaum, Judith Horchert and Christian Stöcker, “Shopping for Spy Gear: Catalog Advertises NSA Toolbox,” Spiegel Online, 29 December 2013, at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/catalog-reveals-nsa-has-back-doors-for-numerous-devices-a-940994.html (retrieved: 29 December 2013).

13 “Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit,” Spiegel Online, 29 December 2013, at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-nsa-uses-powerful-toolbox-in-effort-to-spy-on-global-networks-a-940969.html (retrieved: 29 December 2013); See also Der Spiegel, 1/2014, 30 December 2013.

14 Courtney Subramanian, “The Tao of the NSA: Specialized Hacking Team Gets the ‘Ungettable’,” Time World, 29 December 2013, at http://world.time.com/2013/12/29/the-tao-of-the-nsa-specialized-hacking-team-gets-the-ungettable/ (retrieved: 2 january 2013).

15 Stephen Lawson, “California police criticized for ‘stingray’ cellphone trackers,” PC World, 13 March 2014, at http://www.pcworld.com/article/2108320/california-police-criticized-for-stingray-cellphone-trackers.html (retrieved: 13 March 2014).

16 Julia Fioretti, “British spy agency collected images of Yahoo webcam chats: Guardian,” Reuters.com, 27 February 2014, at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/27/us-usa-security-britain-idUSBREA1Q1XX20140227 (retrieved: 27 February 2014).

17 Hembree Brandon, “Your toaster acting suspiciously? It may well be spying on you,” Farm Press Blog, 7 June 2014, at http://deltafarmpress.com/blog/your-toaster-acting-suspiciously-it-may-well-be-spying-you (retrieved: 7 June 2014).

18 “‘The Paragraph Began to Self-Delete’: Did NSA Hack Computer of Snowden Biographer & Edit Book Draft?” DemocracyNow.org, 24 February 2014, at http://www.democracynow.org/2014/2/24/the_paragraph_began_to_self_delete (retrieved: 27 February 2014).

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