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Given that we now know that the National Security Agency (NSA) has the ability to compromise some, if not all of VPN, SSL, and TLS forms of data transmission hardening, it’s worth considering the various vectors of technical and legal data-gathering that high-level adversaries in America and Britain (and likely other countries, at least in the “Five Eyes” group of anglophone allies) are likely using in parallel to go after a given target. So far, the possibilities include:

  • A company volunteers to help (and gets paid for it)
  • Spies copy the traffic directly off the fiber
  • A company complies under legal duress
  • Spies infiltrate a company
  • Spies coerce upstream companies to weaken crypto in their products/install backdoors
  • Spies brute force the crypto
  • Spies compromise a digital certificate
  • Spies hack a target computer directly, stealing keys and/or data, sabotage.

Let’s take these one at a time.

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Flickr user: Andreas Poike

High-frequency trading is the practice where automated systems search for minor differences in price of stocks that can be exploited for small financial gains. Executed often enough and with a high enough investment, they can lead to serious profits for the investment firms that have the wherewithal to run these systems. The systems trade with minimal human supervision, however, and have been blamed for a number of unusually violent swings that have taken place in the stock market.

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Flickr user: Brent Moore

Fake masculinity on demand. At first, this seems like a case of neat science. Many species of cephalopods have the ability to change coloration on demand, and some researchers have found a species of squid where the females have three stripes running down their mantles. The interesting bit is that they use two different mechanisms for controlling the color changes of these stripes. The weird bit is why they change color: the authors suspect that the stripes can make a female look like it's a male. That can keep males from trying to mate with it, which may be helpful if the female already has mated.

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Aurich Lawson / HBO

This week, as revelations about the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) spying continued to unfold, Ryan Gallagher brought us an article about the types of hardware that agencies outside of the NSA use to gather information from mobile devices. These agencies, which include local law enforcement as well as federal groups like the FBI and the DEA, use highly specialized equipment to gain information about a target. Still, the details about that hardware is largely kept secret from the public. Gallagher summed up what the public knows (and brought to light a few lesser-known facts) in his article, Meet the machines that steal your phone’s data.

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ComicStix asked:

I'm a freshman Computer Science student and we just started doing some actual projects in Python. I have found I'm very efficient when I use the pen and paper method that my professor suggested in class. But when I can't write my problem down and work my algorithms out on paper I am really slow. During labs, I always seem to have to take the assignment back to my dorm. When I get there and write it out I solve the problem that took me the whole class in like 5 minutes.

Maybe it's because I get stressed seeing people solving labs before me. Or maybe it's the pen and paper method.

I was browsing through forums and someone wrote that if you have to write your programs on paper then you shouldn't be a programmer. I'm really worried because I'm so much better when I can see what the program is doing and track my way through it before typing actual code. Am I doing something wrong?

See the original question here.

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The National Security Agency and its UK counterpart have made repeated and determined attempts to identify people using the Tor anonymity service, but the fundamental security remains intact, as top-secret documents published on Friday revealed.

The classified memos and training manuals—which were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and reported by The Guardian, show that the NSA and the UK-based Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are able to bypass Tor protections, but only against select targets and often with considerable effort. Indeed, one presentation slide grudgingly hailed Tor as "the king of high-secure, low-latency Internet anonymity." Another, titled "Tor Stinks," lamented: "We will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time."

An article published separately by The Washington Post also based on documents provided by Snowden concurred.

"There is no evidence that the NSA is capable of unmasking Tor traffic routinely on a global scale," the report said. "But for almost seven years, it has been trying."

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