Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day: Ain't No App For That


Quote of The Day: Robert Dreyfuss

"By now, it's maddeningly familiar. A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur."

- Robert Dreyfuss, writing on

Friday, May 22, 2009

In Germany, Widespread Spying is Back, This Time by Corporations

Henry Chu writes in The Los Angeles Times:

Growing up in West Germany, Lothar Schroeder never knew that terrible sense of violation suffered by people in the communist East at the hands of the secret police who tailed them, bugged their homes and recruited neighbors and even family members to snitch on them.

Now he knows.

But it's not a totalitarian state doing the snooping this time; it's some of the country's largest corporations -- big names in telecommunications, transportation and retail.

Last year, authorities informed Schroeder that Deutsche Telekom had secretly combed through his cellphone records, apparently to root out the source of leaks to the news media. Schroeder, a union representative on the company's board of supervisors, was stunned.

"I never could believe that Deutsche Telekom would use their data in this way, never," he said, adding ruefully, "Perhaps I'm a little bit naive."

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany is being rocked by a string of spying scandals that have staggered residents with their scale and brought back painful memories of the prying eyes of Big Brother during the Cold War.

More here.

DoD Pays Billions For Unnamed Contractors

Michael Fabey writes on AviationWeek:

The Pentagon spent more than $2.7 billion on “miscellaneous items” in 2008 for which the contractor was listed as “not available” — a rare omission for Defense Department documentation — according to an Aerospace DAILY analysis of an independent national database of government contracting data.

The “miscellaneous items” expenditure listing appears to be a catch-all category for Pentagon transactions, according to interviews with defense analysts and a review of Defense Department contracting data provided by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR).

In many cases the transactions also fail to clearly show what the money was spent on. However, defense analysts say the transactions appear to be classified or related to intelligence operations, and the proper congressional overseers have received the names of the contractors and information on the work done.

More here.

Wiretap Judge Slams Government

Bob Egelko writes in The San Francisco Chronicle:

A federal judge in San Francisco lashed out Friday at the Obama administration for its refusal to share a classified document with an Islamic group that claims it was illegally wiretapped, and said he may declare the group the winner by default in its lawsuit against the government.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who has expressed increasing frustration with the Justice Department's hard line in the case, raised the stakes in his latest order by suggesting he would issue a final ruling against the government and order it to pay damages.

He ordered the department to tell him, by next Friday, why he should not declare the government responsible for violating the rights of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation as a penalty for "failing to obey the court's orders."

Such a ruling would stop short of the conclusion Al-Haramain seeks in its lawsuit - that it was wiretapped as part of the program authorized by President George W. Bush in 2001 to intercept calls between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists. Walker could not issue such a finding because the case has been stuck in a dispute over the organization's right to sue.

But it would be a stiff rebuke to an administration that has pledged to reconsider Bush's broad claims of secrecy in all cases touching on national security.

More here.

FCC’s Warrantless Household Searches Alarm Experts

Ryan Singel writes on Threat Level:

You may not know it, but if you have a wireless router, a cordless phone, remote car-door opener, baby monitor or cellphone in your house, the FCC claims the right to enter your home without a warrant at any time of the day or night in order to inspect it.

That’s the upshot of the rules the agency has followed for years to monitor licensed television and radio stations, and to crack down on pirate radio broadcasters. And the commission maintains the same policy applies to any licensed or unlicensed radio-frequency device.

“Anything using RF energy — we have the right to inspect it to make sure it is not causing interference,” says FCC spokesman David Fiske. That includes devices like Wi-Fi routers that use unlicensed spectrum, Fiske says.

The FCC claims it derives its warrantless search power from the Communications Act of 1934, though the constitutionality of the claim has gone untested in the courts. That’s largely because the FCC had little to do with average citizens for most of the last 75 years, when home transmitters were largely reserved to ham-radio operators and CB-radio aficionados. But in 2009, nearly every household in the United States has multiple devices that use radio waves and fall under the FCC’s purview, making the commission’s claimed authority ripe for a court challenge.

More here.

Report: Russian Group Offers $200M to Facebook

Via The Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal.

Another investor has reportedly showed up offering Facebook Inc. $200 millon as the social networking company seeks to buy out employee stock.

The Wall Street Journal reported late Friday that Digital Sky Technologies has offered to invest the money at a $10 billion valuation on the Palo Alto company.

The Journal said the group has also offered to buy between $100 million and $150 million in employee stock at a lower $6.5 billion valuation.

More here.

Some additional background on Digital Sky Technologies here via -ferg

DNS Attack Downs Internet in Parts of China

Owen Fletcher writes on PC World:

An attack on the servers of a domain registrar in China caused an online video application to cripple Internet access in parts of the country late on Wednesday.

Internet access was affected in five northern and coastal provinces after the DNS (domain name system) attack, which targeted just one company but caused unanswered information requests to flood China's telecommunications networks, China's IT ministry said in a statement on its Web site. The DNS is what computers use to find each other on the Internet.

The incident revealed holes in China's DNS that are "very strange" for such a big country, said Konstantin Sapronov, head of Kaspersky's Virus Lab in China.

The problems started when registrar DNSPod's DNS servers were targeted with a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack, described by the company in an online statement. In such an attack, the attacker orders a legion of compromised computers to try to communicate with a server all at once, which overwhelms the server and crushes its ability to return requests for information.

More here.

Malware Knocks Out U.S. Marshals Service Network

John Fontana and Carolyn Duffy Marsan write on NetworkWorld:

Malware Wednesday crippled Windows-based computer systems at the U.S. Marshals Service, which hunts federal fugitives and operates the country's witness protection program, knocking the agency’s network offline.

The agency's press office confirmed it was having network problems and that its e-mail system was down this morning, but it was unclear if the outage extended across the entire network.

The press office said a statement would be issued today, but has yet to be released.

Per government regulations agencies are required to report security incidents to the US-Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). A call to CERT was not returned by press time.

More here.

Programming Note: Back From Barcelona

On the funicular, getting ready to ride up to Tibidabo, Barcelona.

So I made it back to Northern California in one piece from my travels to Spain, albeit a bit sunburned and exhausted. The blog should be getting back to normal slowly, since I have to travel now to Southern California for meetings for the first three days of next week (yes, unfortunately I have to work on Memorial Day).


- ferg