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by spocko

Which US-made Internet Routers Did the NSA Tamper With?

3:59 pm in Uncategorized by spocko

Today in the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald has an excerpt from his new book No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State He reveals how the NSA tampers with exported US-made internet routers, servers and other computer networking devices.
Kitteh Lovez Teh Interweb

 A June 2010 report from the head of the NSA’s Access and Target Development department is shockingly explicit. The NSA routinely receives – or intercepts – routers, servers and other computer network devices being exported from the US before they are delivered to the international customers.

The agency then implants backdoor surveillance tools, repackages the devices with a factory seal and sends them on. The NSA thus gains access to entire networks and all their users. The document gleefully observes that some “SIGINT tradecraft … is very hands-on (literally!)”.

Over at Boing Boing. Joel Moore asks a couple of great questions.

Two questions immediately come to my mind:


1) How exactly does the NSA “interdict” these shipments? Hijacking? Bribery? Willing cooperation of someone in the supply chain?

2) How deeply embedded is this software? Can it be wiped by reinstalling firmware downloaded directly from the vendor?

These are great questions. They really should be addressed by the manufacturers. There are only handful of major manufacturers of the products in question and tech journalists know who they are. Cisco, Juniper and a few others. 

But who is going to ask them? For all we know they are all cooperating under NSA security letters so they can’t talk about it. They can’t even tell people that they have a security letter. Would they welcome a chance to address this issue as a way to clear their name? Reassure customers?

One of the parts about this story that I find fascinating is that the US accused the Chinese of doing this to the routers they were sending here. In this regard they are like the RW media. Whatever they accuse the left of doing, THEY are doing. Based on this principle, what else did the US intelligence community accuse foreign intelligence agencies of doing?

Speaking of the intelligence community, today on Fresh Air is a great interview with two from NSA analysts talking about an upcoming Front Line show, United States of Secrets. where they discuss how the spying program was developed.

Once again I see just how horrible the system is, and how people who want to do the right thing and go through channels are ignored. Then, when someone finally goes to the outside, the government viciously attacks them.

How can insiders fix things that are wrong? How can outsiders help them? One way might be to look at stories like this and use them as a window of opportunity. Hopefully management will not be as pig headed as the US government when it comes to listening to internal voices. After all, their silence has now hurt their profits.  We all know that the most important thing is maintaining profits. Silence is no longer golden.

Speak now or forever hold your tweets.

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by spocko

What do the Words and Actions of Non-Whistleblowers Reveal?

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by spocko

It’s Whistleblower Week and everyone is tweeting, writing and opining about them but before we all move on to the number one threat to America– BEARS!– I’d like to talk about all the people who AREN’T whistleblowers.
Blow that whistle! by Christian Guthier Creative Commons Attribution License
What are they thinking right now? How are they reacting? What are they saying? What will they do in the future because of this?

I’m going to slide down from the official definition of  Whistleblower, where someone exposes elements of a crime, to the more prosaic exposing of shady actions within your own life.

The reality is that many of us have been in a position where we knew that something going down was illegal. We saw something technically legal happening, but we still knew it was wrong. How we dealt with it says a lot about who we are but also where we are in life. Sometimes we can afford to pay the price, other times we say, “Looking myself in the mirror is overrated.  I’ll just look the other way this time.”

Sometimes things are wrong according to your religion’s moral code, other times your own personal moral code is violated.

A lot of the time we do act. We bust the co-worker who is padding their expense account.  We “accidently” let the client know that our boss didn’t dump the conflicting account when the said they would, “Oh I’m sure it was just a mix up. If you bring it to his attention, you didn’t hear it from me.”

Most people don’t seek out ethical dilemmas in the workplace, unless they are looking for fodder for a new cable TV show. Often there are no reporting systems in place, or  you are in a company/culture where you know that nothing will be done. So when a big story about Whistleblowers breaks, there will be some conflict in people’s minds and that will be reflected in their comments.  I want us to look at these comments and try to understand where they are coming from.

My friend Gottalaff over at The Political Carnival noted these tweets in her stream after the announcement of the identity of  the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“He has no grip on reality,”
He’s “dumb”
“I’ve been thinking mental since he said: “they can literally watch ur ideas form as u type”
“Delusions of grandeur much?”
“He’ll start a war with China,”
“His BS abt HK as a refuge makes me think he has a mental disorder.”
“Chinese Pres visits US yesterday. Leaker id came out 2day.Hong Kong is under the control of China. Fiill in the rest.”
“Bit delusional, grandiose notions, might be suffering from ODS.”

When someone like Snowden comes forward, people’s reactions don’t come out of a vacuum. Some praise the person, others get pissed off. The whistleblower did something many feel they could never do. Some lash out at the person because they think he is making them look bad for not acting on the same info.  Think about all the people who worked for the NSA as contractors who didn’t come forward. Surely some felt the same as Snowden.  But let’s not forget the people who believe that what the Whistleblower did was wrong. I’ve made the mistake thinking that everyone looks at this situation as I do.

I feel a great deal of empathy for people who can’t be whistleblowers right now. I’m going to suggest things that they can do to make it easier for others to act now and in the future.

Actions You Can Take Now

1) Pop over to the National Whistleblower Center and read the Whistleblower Handbook.

2) Figure out ways to get your company and colleagues to do the right thing–without getting fired.(Not to brag, but I’m very proud of the way I figured out how to help corporations do the right thing by suggesting they remove their sponsorship from Right Wing Talk radio. “Don’t let them taint your brand! Do you want your brand to be less sexist? Stop sponsoring sexist talk.” )

3) Contribute to the Edward Snowden Legal Defense Fund started by the Progressive Change Campaign.

4) Join the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

People who don’t want their actions to be exposed will work to make exposure harder. They will get groups like ALEC to create bills like the Ag-Gag laws that criminalize doing the right thing.

Our job going forward is to revise attitudes toward whistleblowers and create systems and structures to help the next whistleblower. Someday it might be you blowing that whistle.


Photo by Christian Guthier Creative Commons Attribution license