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National Security Agency

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The National Security Agency wants your kids to know that it's cool to be "cyber smart."

As part of the agency's outreach to promote interest in technology and recruit a future generation of computer security experts, the NSA has links on its homepage to two sites targeted at children and adolescents. The "Kids Page," intended for elementary age children, appears to be down at the moment—either that, or the error code reference (Reference #97.887ffea5.1374616699.dc7bfc5) is an encoded message to grade school operatives that it's time to report in.

But the "Change The World" page, targeted at middle and high school students, is chock full of crypto-clearance fun. There's a word search, a PDF to print to make your own letter substitution code wheel, and a collection of tips on how to be a good cyber-citizen. Ironically, some of these tips might be useful for people concerned about how much data is being collected on them through broad metadata collection and FISA Court warranted PRISM probes.

Among the NSA's tips for kids is this sage wisdom: "Be cyber courteous! It is too easy to hide behind a computer! A cyber smart person never says anything online that they wouldn’t say in person. Remember that what you write in an e-mail can usually be retrieved and shared with others, so be responsible with e-mails, chats, and online communications." Especially since those e-mails, chats, and online communications could be getting captured in real-time by one of the NSA's network taps.

The NSA does offer kids some helpful password advice. "Try this: Take four random words…take the first three letters of each word, make some letters upper case and others lower case, then add any two or three numbers and then some character like @#$%&... the password should be at least 14 characters and memorable (or write it down but protect it). You should have a different password for each account that you have!" The NSA also suggests that kids only share their passwords with their parents. "No one else should have them—not your friends, teachers, or other family members."

The NSA wants kids to look out for software trojan horses and to play fair. "Do you download 'cheat' programs that promise information to how to perform better or beat a game?" the site asks. "Sometimes cheat downloads are used to implant a virus or malware on your computer!"

There's also some helpful information on protecting kids' identities online, including how to behave on social networks and in online games. "Do you use an avatar? You should. While cameras and webcams are popular, they also reveal who you are. When gaming, keep your true identity a mystery. Cyber sleuths never reveal their true identity except to trusted adults, like your parents!"

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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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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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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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Further fueling the ongoing debate over the future of the news media and independent journalism, eBay founder and billionaire Pierre Omidyar last month committed $250 million to a news site co-founded by journalist and author Glenn Greenwald. Omidyar’s investment followed the announcement over the summer that Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had purchased The Washington Post, also a $250 million investment. The late Steve Jobs’s wife, Lauren Powell, and 29-year-old Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes are also pouring money into old and new media ventures.

Could this new band of news media owners shape a technology-led business model that will be profitable and protect the integrity of impartial, ideology-free journalism? Ultimately, according to Wharton experts, the ball will rest with the consumer.

Any new business model that those in the technology world would bring to the media realm would have to address the major pain points currently facing the industry. News organizations have “suffered a lot financially in the past couple of years,” says Wharton marketing professor Pinar Yildirim. Circulation numbers and advertising revenue have shrunk as both readers and companies turned their focus to the Internet. The industry has tried to adjust to the new normal — some newspapers and magazines have cut back on issues or the number of days they produce a print product. Other news organizations have started charging for online access. Still more have tried to add content that mimics what tends to be most popular on the web, especially entertainment-related coverage, Yildirim notes.

Omidyar has indicated that he was motivated more by a desire to protect independent journalism than the prospect of getting a return on his investment, at least for now. In a blog post published on his website last month, Omidyar wrote that his investment in Greenwald’s venture (tentatively called “NewCo.”) stems from his “interest in journalism for some time now.” In 2010, Omidyar founded Honolulu Civil Beat, a news website with a stated focus on “investigative and watchdog journalism.” Earlier this summer, he explored buying The Washington Post newspaper before Bezos became the winning bidder. Around that time, Omidyar said he began thinking about the social impact he could help create with an investment in “something entirely new, built from the ground up.”

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Original author: 
Sean Gallagher


NSA Headquarters in Fort Meade, MD.

mjb

One organization's data centers hold the contents of much of the visible Internet—and much of it that isn't visible just by clicking your way around. It has satellite imagery of much of the world and ground-level photography of homes and businesses and government installations tied into a geospatial database that is cross-indexed to petabytes of information about individuals and organizations. And its analytics systems process the Web search requests, e-mail messages, and other electronic activities of hundreds of millions of people.

No one at this organization actually "knows" everything about what individuals are doing on the Web, though there is certainly the potential for abuse. By policy, all of the "knowing" happens in software, while the organization's analysts generally handle exceptions (like violations of the law) picked from the flotsam of the seas of data that their systems process.

I'm talking, of course, about Google. Most of us are okay with what Google does with its vast supply of "big data," because we largely benefit from it—though Google does manage to make a good deal of money off of us in the process. But if I were to backspace over Google's name and replace it with "National Security Agency," that would leave a bit of a different taste in many people's mouths.

Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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