Saturday, August 16, 2014

OpenStack 08/17/2014 (a.m.)

  • Tags: CPUs, chips, technology

    • When I first started reading Ars Technica, performance of a processor was measured in megahertz, and the major manufacturers were rushing to squeeze as many of them as possible into their latest silicon. Shortly thereafter, however, the energy needs and heat output of these beasts brought that race crashing to a halt. More recently, the number of processing cores rapidly scaled up, but they quickly reached the point of diminishing returns. Now, getting the most processing power for each Watt seems to be the key measure of performance.

      None of these things happened because the companies making processors ran up against hard physical limits. Rather, computing power ended up being constrained because progress in certain areas—primarily energy efficiency—was slow compared to progress in others, such as feature size. But could we be approaching physical limits in processing power? In this week's edition of Nature, The University of Michigan's Igor Markov takes a look at the sorts of limits we might face.


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Sunday, August 10, 2014

OpenStack 08/10/2014 (p.m.)

  • Tags: surveillance state, Gamma-Group, FinFisher, zero-day-exploits, Vupen-Security, MSOffice, MSIE, Acrobat

    • Software created by the controversial UK-based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia, Iran, and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica.

      It's not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer e-mail addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer, and the Qatari government.

    • The leaked files—which were posted online by hackers—are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma's software to spy on dissidents, journalists, and activist groups.

      The documents, leaked last Saturday, could not be readily verified, but experts told ProPublica they believed them to be genuine. "I think it's highly unlikely that it's a fake," said Morgan Marquis-Bore, a security researcher who while at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto had analyzed Gamma Group's software and who authored an article about the leak on Thursday.

      The documents confirm many details that have already been reported about Gamma, such as that its tools were used to spy on Bahraini activists. Some documents in the trove contain metadata tied to e-mail addresses of several Gamma employees. Bill Marczak, another Gamma Group expert at the Citizen Lab, said that several dates in the documents correspond to publicly known events—such as the day that a particular Bahraini activist was hacked.

    • The leaked files contain more than 40 gigabytes of confidential technical material, including software code, internal memos, strategy reports, and user guides on how to use Gamma Group software suite called FinFisher. FinFisher enables customers to monitor secure Web traffic, Skype calls, webcams, and personal files. It is installed as malware on targets' computers and cell phones.

      A price list included in the trove lists a license of the software at almost $4 million.

      The documents reveal that Gamma uses technology from a French company called Vupen Security that sells so-called computer "exploits."

      Exploits include techniques called "zero days" for "popular software like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and many more." Zero days are exploits that have not yet been detected by the software maker and therefore are not blocked.

    • Many of Gamma's product brochures have previously been published by the Wall Street Journal and Wikileaks, but the latest trove shows how the products are getting more sophisticated.

      In one document, engineers at Gamma tested a product called FinSpy, which inserts malware onto a user's machine, and found that it could not be blocked by most antivirus software.

      Documents also reveal that Gamma had been working to bypass encryption tools including a mobile phone encryption app, Silent Circle, and were able to bypass the protection given by hard-drive encryption products TrueCrypt and Microsoft's Bitlocker.

    • The documents also describe a "country-wide" surveillance product called FinFly ISP which promises customers the ability to intercept Internet traffic and masquerade as ordinary websites in order to install malware on a target's computer.

      The most recent date-stamp found in the documents is August 2, coincidung with the first tweet by a parody Twitter account, @GammaGroupPR, which first announced the hack and may be run by the hacker or hackers responsible for the leak.

      On Reddit, a user called PhineasFisher claimed responsibility for the leak. "Two years ago their software was found being widely used by governments in the middle east, especially Bahrain, to hack and spy on the computers and phones of journalists and dissidents," the user wrote. The name on the @GammaGroupPR Twitter account is also "Phineas Fisher."

      GammaGroup, the surveillance company whose documents were released, is no stranger to the spotlight. The security firm F-Secure first reported the purchase of FinFisher software by the Egyptian State Security agency in 2011. In 2012, Bloomberg News and The Citizen Lab showed how the company's malware was used to target activists in Bahrain.

      In 2013, the software company Mozilla sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company after a report by The Citizen Lab showed that a spyware-infected version of the Firefox browser manufactured by Gamma was being used to spy on Malaysian activists.


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Saturday, August 09, 2014

OpenStack 08/10/2014 (a.m.)

  • Tags: surveillance state, FBI, drive-by-malware, Tor, digital-privacy

    • Security experts call it a “drive-by download”: a hacker infiltrates a high-traffic website and then subverts it to deliver malware to every single visitor. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the black hat arsenal, capable of delivering thousands of fresh victims into a hackers’ clutches within minutes.

      Now the technique is being adopted by a different kind of a hacker—the kind with a badge. For the last two years, the FBI has been quietly experimenting with drive-by hacks as a solution to one of law enforcement’s knottiest Internet problems: how to identify and prosecute users of criminal websites hiding behind the powerful Tor anonymity system.

      The approach has borne fruit—over a dozen alleged users of Tor-based child porn sites are now headed for trial as a result. But it’s also engendering controversy, with charges that the Justice Department has glossed over the bulk-hacking technique when describing it to judges, while concealing its use from defendants. Critics also worry about mission creep, the weakening of a technology relied on by human rights workers and activists, and the potential for innocent parties to wind up infected with government malware because they visited the wrong website. “This is such a big leap, there should have been congressional hearings about this,” says ACLU technologist Chris Soghoian, an expert on law enforcement’s use of hacking tools. “If Congress decides this is a technique that’s perfectly appropriate, maybe that’s OK. But let’s have an informed debate about it.”

    • The FBI’s use of malware is not new. The bureau calls the method an NIT, for “network investigative technique,” and the FBI has been using it since at least 2002 in cases ranging from computer hacking to bomb threats, child porn to extortion. Depending on the deployment, an NIT can be a bulky full-featured backdoor program that gives the government access to your files, location, web history and webcam for a month at a time, or a slim, fleeting wisp of code that sends the FBI your computer’s name and address, and then evaporates.

      What’s changed is the way the FBI uses its malware capability, deploying it as a driftnet instead of a fishing line. And the shift is a direct response to Tor, the powerful anonymity system endorsed by Edward Snowden and the State Department alike.

  • Tags: ebooks, Amazon, Hachette, price-war

    • A Message from the Amazon Books Team

      Dear Readers,

      Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents — it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

      With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution — places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if "publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them." Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

      Well… history doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

    • Fast forward to today, and it's the e-book's turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette — a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate — are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there's no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

      Perhaps channeling Orwell's decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn't only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette's readers.

      The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will "devalue books" and hurt "Arts and Letters." They're wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.


Posted from Diigo. The rest of Open Web group favorite links are here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

OpenStack 08/09/2014 (a.m.)


Posted from Diigo. The rest of Open Web group favorite links are here.

OpenStack 08/08/2014 (p.m.)

  • The Internet continues to harden in the wake of the NSA revelations. This is a nice nudge by Google.

    Tags: surveillance state, NSA-reform, NSA-blowback, Google

    • Google will begin using website encryption, or HTTPS, as a ranking signal – a move which should prompt website developers who have dragged their heels on increased security measures, or who debated whether their website was “important” enough to require encryption, to make a change. Initially, HTTPS will only be a lightweight signal, affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, says Google.

      That means that the new signal won’t carry as much weight as other factors, including the quality of the content, the search giant noted, as Google means to give webmasters time to make the switch to HTTPS.

      Over time, however, encryption’s effect on search ranking make strengthen, as the company places more importance on website security.

      Google also promises to publish a series of best practices around TLS (HTTPS, is also known as HTTP over TLS, or Transport Layer Security) so website developers can better understand what they need to do in order to implement the technology and what mistakes they should avoid. These tips will include things like what certificate type is needed, how to use relative URLs for resources on the same secure domain, best practices around allowing for site indexing, and more.

    • In addition, website developers can test their current HTTPS-enabled website using the Qualys Lab tool, says Google, and can direct further questions to Google’s Webmaster Help Forums where the company is already in active discussions with the broader community.

      The announcement has drawn a lot of feedback from website developers and those in the SEO industry – for instance, Google’s own blog post on the matter, shared in the early morning hours on Thursday, is already nearing 1,000 comments. For the most part, the community seems to support the change, or at least acknowledge that they felt that something like this was in the works and are not surprised.

      Google itself has been making moves to better securing its own traffic in recent months, which have included encrypting traffic between its own servers. Gmail now always uses an encrypted HTTPS connection which keeps mail from being snooped on as it moves from a consumer’s machine to Google’s data centers.

    • While HTTPS and site encryption have been a best practice in the security community for years, the revelation that the NSA has been tapping the cables, so to speak, to mine user information directly has prompted many technology companies to consider increasing their own security measures, too. Yahoo, for example, also announced in November its plans to encrypt its data center traffic.

      Now Google is helping to push the rest of the web to do the same.


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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

OpenStack 08/07/2014 (a.m.)


Posted from Diigo. The rest of Open Web group favorite links are here.

Friday, August 01, 2014

OpenStack 08/01/2014 (p.m.)

  • And no one but the lowest ranking staffer knew anything about it, not even the CIA lawyer who made the criminal referral to the Justice Dept., alleging that the Senate Intelligence Committee had accessed classified documents it wasn't authorized to access. So the Justice Dept. announces that there's insufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation. As though the CIA lawyer's allegations were not based on the unlawful surveillance of the Senate Intelligence Committee's network.  Can't we just get an official announcement that Attorney General Holder has decided that there shall be a cover-up? 

    Tags: surveillance state, CIA, torture, Senate-Intelligence_Committee-Report, Brennan

    • An internal CIA investigation confirmed allegations that agency personnel improperly intruded into a protected database used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff to compile a scathing report on the agency’s detention and interrogation program, prompting bipartisan outrage and at least two calls for spy chief John Brennan to resign.

      “This is very, very serious, and I will tell you, as a member of the committee, someone who has great respect for the CIA, I am extremely disappointed in the actions of the agents of the CIA who carried out this breach of the committee’s computers,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the committee’s vice chairman.

    • The rare display of bipartisan fury followed a three-hour private briefing by Inspector General David Buckley. His investigation revealed that five CIA employees, two lawyers and three information technology specialists improperly accessed or “caused access” to a database that only committee staff were permitted to use.

      Buckley’s inquiry also determined that a CIA crimes report to the Justice Department alleging that the panel staff removed classified documents from a top-secret facility without authorization was based on “inaccurate information,” according to a summary of the findings prepared for the Senate and House intelligence committees and released by the CIA.

      In other conclusions, Buckley found that CIA security officers conducted keyword searches of the emails of staffers of the committee’s Democratic majority _ and reviewed some of them _ and that the three CIA information technology specialists showed “a lack of candor” in interviews with Buckley’s office.

    • The inspector general’s summary did not say who may have ordered the intrusion or when senior CIA officials learned of it.

      Following the briefing, some senators struggled to maintain their composure over what they saw as a violation of the constitutional separation of powers between an executive branch agency and its congressional overseers.

      “We’re the only people watching these organizations, and if we can’t rely on the information that we’re given as being accurate, then it makes a mockery of the entire oversight function,” said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats.

      The findings confirmed charges by the committee chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that the CIA intruded into the database that by agreement was to be used by her staffers compiling the report on the harsh interrogation methods used by the agency on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons under the George W. Bush administration.

      The findings also contradicted Brennan’s denials of Feinstein’s allegations, prompting two panel members, Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., to demand that the spy chief resign.

    • Another committee member, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and some civil rights groups called for a fuller investigation. The demands clashed with a desire by President Barack Obama, other lawmakers and the CIA to move beyond the controversy over the “enhanced interrogation program” after Feinstein releases her committee’s report, which could come as soon as next week

      Many members demanded that Brennan explain his earlier denial that the CIA had accessed the Senate committee database.

      “Director Brennan should make a very public explanation and correction of what he said,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. He all but accused the Justice Department of a coverup by deciding not to pursue a criminal investigation into the CIA’s intrusion.

    • “I thought there might have been information that was produced after the department reached their conclusion,” he said. “What I understand, they have all of the information which the IG has.”

      He hinted that the scandal goes further than the individuals cited in Buckley’s report.

      “I think it’s very clear that CIA people knew exactly what they were doing and either knew or should’ve known,” said Levin, adding that he thought that Buckley’s findings should be referred to the Justice Department.

      A person with knowledge of the issue insisted that the CIA personnel who improperly accessed the database “acted in good faith,” believing that they were empowered to do so because they believed there had been a security violation.

      “There was no malicious intent. They acted in good faith believing they had the legal standing to do so,” said the knowledgeable person, who asked not to be further identified because they weren’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly. “But it did not conform with the legal agreement reached with the Senate committee.”

    • Feinstein called Brennan’s apology and his decision to submit Buckley’s findings to the accountability board “positive first steps.”

      “This IG report corrects the record and it is my understanding that a declassified report will be made available to the public shortly,” she said in a statement.

      “The investigation confirmed what I said on the Senate floor in March _ CIA personnel inappropriately searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers in violation of an agreement we had reached, and I believe in violation of the constitutional separation of powers,” she said.

      It was not clear why Feinstein didn’t repeat her charges from March that the agency also may have broken the law and had sought to “thwart” her investigation into the CIA’s use of waterboarding, which simulates drowning, sleep deprivation and other harsh interrogation methods _ tactics denounced by many experts as torture.

    • Buckley’s findings clashed with denials by Brennan that he issued only hours after Feinstein’s blistering Senate speech.

      “As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s _ that’s just beyond the _ you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do,” he said in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations.

      White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest issued a strong defense of Brennan, crediting him with playing an “instrumental role” in the administration’s fight against terrorism, in launching Buckley’s investigation and in looking for ways to prevent such occurrences in the future.

      Earnest was asked at a news briefing whether there was a credibility issue for Brennan, given his forceful denial in March.

      “Not at all,” he replied, adding that Brennan had suggested the inspector general’s investigation in the first place. And, he added, Brennan had taken the further step of appointing the accountability board to review the situation and the conduct of those accused of acting improperly to “ensure that they are properly held accountable for that conduct.”

    • The allegations and the separate CIA charge that the committee staff removed classified documents from the secret CIA facility in Northern Virginia without authorization were referred to the Justice Department for investigation.

      The department earlier this month announced that it had found insufficient evidence on which to proceed with criminal probes into either matter “at this time.” Thursday, Justice Department officials declined comment.

    • In her speech, Feinstein asserted that her staff found the material _ known as the Panetta review, after former CIA Director Leon Panetta, who ordered it _ in the protected database and that the CIA discovered the staff had it by monitoring its computers in violation of the user agreement.

      The inspector general’s summary, which was prepared for the Senate and the House intelligence committees, didn’t identify the CIA personnel who had accessed the Senate’s protected database.

      Furthermore, it said, the CIA crimes report to the Justice Department alleging that panel staffers had removed classified materials without permission was grounded on inaccurate information. The report is believed to have been sent by the CIA’s then acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, who was a legal adviser to the interrogation program.

      “The factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based,” said the summary, noting that the Justice Department decided not to pursue the issue.

    • Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the CIA announcement, saying that “an apology isn’t enough.”

      “The Justice Department must refer the (CIA) inspector general’s report to a federal prosecutor for a full investigation into any crimes by CIA personnel or contractors,” said Anders.


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Thursday, July 31, 2014

OpenStack 08/01/2014 (a.m.)


Posted from Diigo. The rest of Open Web group favorite links are here.