Tag: homeland security

Homeland Security computers insecure

635603107198861220-homeland-securityThe US government department, which is supposed to make sure other government departments are secure from hackers, is insecure.

An audit has found lapses in internal systems used by the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Department of Homeland Security also needs to establish a cyber training program for analysts and investigators, the audit said, with officials from several agencies blaming short-term budget allocations from Congress for their training cuts.

“We identified vulnerabilities on internal websites at ICE and USSS that may allow unauthorized individuals to gain access to sensitive data,” according to the report by the Office of the Inspector General for DHS.

The websites are used by ICE and Secret Service agents to report investigation statistics, case tracking and information sharing, it said.

The audit said the 240,000-employee department has made progress in strengthening cyber coordination between agencies and made nine recommendations, which DHS accepted and said it was working to address.

The recommendations come as federal government’s cyber security practices are under intense public scrutiny following recent breaches at the Office of Personnel Management, White House, State Department and other agencies.

Officials from ICE, NPPD and the Secret Service told investigators the agencies’ ability to conduct proper training programs has been hampered by the stop-gap funding bills Congress has been passing because of its inability to approve yearlong spending in a timely way.

The department needs to come up with a plan to coordinate cyber activities. It would benefit from automated capability for real-time incident information sharing, the report said.

Italian army runs away from Microsoft

Microsoft campusThe Italian military is transitioning to LibreOffice and the Open Document Format (ODF) as part of a move to save cash by abandoning Microsoft.

The Italian Ministry of Defence will over the next year-and-a-half install this suite of office productivity tools on some 150,000 PC workstations – making it Europe’s second largest LibreOffice implementation. The migration project will begin in October should be finished by the end of 2016.

The deployment of LibreOffice will be jointly managed by the two organisations, announces LibreItalia. The NGO will help the ministry to ready trainers in different parts of the military, and the Ministry is to develop a series of online courses to help with the switch to LibreOffice. The material is to be made public using a Creative Commons licence.

An agreement between the Ministry and LibreItalia was signed on 15 September in Rome, by Ruggiero Di Biase, Rear Admiral and General Manager of the Italian Ministry of Defence Information Systems and Sonia Montegiove, President of Associazione LibreItalia.

Italy’s Agency for the Digitalization of the Public Sector (AGID) congratulates the Ministry of Defence, writes the LibreItalia statement. “It hopes that other organisations may follow.”

The NGO writes that the switch to LibreOffice is a consequence of a June 2012 law, which says that free and open source should be the default option for the country’s public administrations.

The Ministry of Defence is the first central government organisation to switch to an open source office productivity suite. However, there are many regions, provinces and city administrations in Italy that use LibreOffice, including the Regione Emilia Romagna, the provinces of Perugia, Cremona, Macerata, Bolzano and Trento, and the cities of Bologna, Piacenza and Reggio Emilia.

The project is also one of Europe’s largest. The largest European public administration using free software office suites is the French Interior Ministry, with some 240,000 desktops. In France, many ministries use open source office suites such as LibreOffice, including the Tax Agency, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Agriculture. LibreOffice is used on some 72,000 PC workstation at the French Gendarmerie.

Convicted hacker saved corporations

A computer hacker who infiltrated the servers of major corporations defected to the men in suits to avoid a large jail sentence.

Hector Xavier Monsegur was arrested by the cops and it was likely he would get more than 20 years porridge under the US government’s “lock em up for years for no real purpose” justice system.

However Monsegur switched sides and helped the government disrupt hundreds of cyberattacks on Congress, NASA and other sensitive targets.

New York prosecutors detailed the cooperation of Monsegur for the first time in court papers while asking a judge to reward him with leniency at his sentencing Tuesday.

Monsegur helped them cripple Anonymous and worked around the clock with FBI agents at his side.

He provided, in real time, information about then-ongoing computer hacks and vulnerabilities in significant computer systems, prosecutors wrote.

The FBI estimates he helped detect at least 300 separate hacks, preventing millions of dollars in losses, they added.

It is believed that despite saving the Land of the Fee more than 300 times, he will still face jail. But because of his cooperation, the sentence could be two years or less.

However in a 2011 interview with an online magazine, Monsegur said he decided to join forces with Anonymous because he was upset over the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

Using the alias Sabu, Monsegur led Lulz Security, or LulzSec, which hacked computer systems of Fox television, Nintendo, PayPal and other businesses, stole private information and then bragged about it online.

When arrested Monsegur immediately agreed to cooperate, giving the FBI a tutorial on the inner-workings and participants of LulzSec and Anonymous, prosecutors said. Under their direction, he “convinced LulzSec members to provide him digital evidence of the hacking activities” and “asked seemingly innocuous questions that … could be used to pinpoint their exact locations and identities,” court papers said.

Reports that Monsegur was cooperating made him a pariah in the Anonymous movement, prosecutors said. Hackers began posting personal information about him, and he was even approached on the street and threatened, they said. He, and his family were later placed in a witness protection programme 

Hackers hit a US utility

In what the Department of Homeland Security calls a “sophisticated hack” someone hit a public utility and compromised its control system network.

The DHS said that there was no evidence that the utility’s operations were affected but it must put the fear of Jehovah into many utilities who operate ancient computers.

The DHS did not identify the utility in a report that was issued this week by the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT.

ICS-CERT was able to work with the affected entity to put in place mitigation strategies and ensure the security of their control systems before there was any impact to operations, a DHS official said in a statement.

Normally such attacks are not disclosed by ICS-CERT, partly because companies are reluctant to go public about attacks to avoid potentially negative publicity. In fact in this case ICS-CERT said that investigators had determined the utility had likely been the victim of previous intrusions. It did not go into more details.

The hackers appear to have launched the latest attack through an Internet portal that enabled workers to access the utility’s control systems. The passwords were attacked with a “brute force” method.

Systems in the US utilities are often so old that they are susceptible to such brute forcing technologies would not have the detailed logging required to aid in an investigation.

Last year ICS-CERT responded to 256 cyber incident reports, more than half of them in the energy sector. While that is nearly double the agency’s 2012 caseload, there was not a single incident that caused a major disruption. 

Turn off the NSA’s power campaign underway

A campaign which aims to turn off the electricity to the NSA so that it can’t store data on citizens is in full swing.

The campaign has started in Washington and appears to be part of a partisan effort to rein in the country’s Men in Black.

Washington became the first state with a physical NSA location to consider the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, designed to make life extremely difficult for the massive spy agency.

The Bill, which has the catchy title HB2272, has been designed by Republican David Taylor and Democrat  Luis Moscoso. It was introduced to the house in the dead of night and is based on model language drafted by the OffNow coalition.

It would make it the policy of Washington “to refuse material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency which claims the power, or with any federal law, rule, regulation, or order which purports to authorise, the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant”.

It would mean that state and local agencies would not give any material support to the NSA within their jurisdiction. Communist countries like the US have government-owned utilities and these would be prevented from providing water and electricity. 

Cray, which builds supercomputers for the agency would not be allowed to supply them anymore.

If the bill passes, it would set in motion actions to stop any state support of the Yakima centre as long as it remains in the state, and could make Cray ineligible for any contracts with the state or its political subdivisions.

Any information gathered without a warrant by the NSA and shared with law enforcement would be inadmissible in state courts. Universities would be forbidden to serve as NSA research facilities or recruiting grounds.

A few states are considering similar laws. Lawmakers in Oklahoma, California and Indiana have already introduced similar legislation, and a senator in Arizona has committed to running it there.  However, since they do not actually have an NSA facility it their states it is more like showing off.

The NSA operates a listening centre on the Army’s Yakima Training Centre  and is in Taylor’s district, and he said he cannot sit idly by while a secretive facility in his own backyard violates the rights of people everywhere.

NSA developing encryption breaking supercomputer

The US National Security Agency is trying to develop a computer that could will break most encryption programmes and give the nation electronic control of the world.

According to the Washington Post, the information was found on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

It said that the NSA is trying to develop a so-called “quantum computer” that could be used to break encryption codes used to cover sensitive information. It will mean that US spooks could break into and control any computer it wanted. If a country, such as Germany was not doing what it was told by the glorious US Empire, the spooks could transfer the nation’s bank accounts to Washington and kill off its economy.

Of course, the US would never do that, it is always the guy in the White Hat who saves the world just in time; it could never be a Dr Evil. After all the fact it was founded by terrorists and criminals who conspired with the countries sworn enemy to overthrow its lawful constitutional democracy has nothing to do with it.

Quantum computers are still in the developmental stage. On paper they can perform several calculations at once instead of in a single stream, could take years to develop, the newspaper said.

NSA is researching the technology as part of a $79.7 million research programme called “Penetrating Hard Targets,” the newspaper said. Other, non-governmental researchers are also trying to develop quantum computers, and it is not clear whether the NSA program lags the private efforts or is ahead of them. 

NSA infected computer with malware

If you have a problem with a Trojan Horse you might be relieved to know that it comes with the blessing of the US government.

According to the latest Snowden release, the American intelligence service infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information.

According to a management presentation the NSA uses something it calls ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ (CNE) in more than 50,000 locations. This is spyspeak for the secret infiltration of computer systems achieved by installing malware, malicious software.

Apparently the NSA employs more than a thousand hackers called TAO (Tailored Access Operations) to carry out the attacks.

Computer hacks are cheap and provide the NSA with opportunities to obtain information that they otherwise would not have access. The NSA-presentation shows their CNE-operations in Venezuela where the malware installed in these countries can remain active for years without being detected.

The malware can be controlled remotely and be turned on and off at will.

Snowden also revealed how the Dutch intelligence services – AIVD and MIVD – have displayed interest in hacking and has created its Joint Sigint Cyber Unit. But the new unit is prohibited by law from performing the type of operations carried out by the NSA as Dutch law does not allow this type of internet searches. 

US told to spill the beans on "internet kill switch"

A federal court has ruled that the US government must reveal details of Homeland Security’s internet “kill switch.”

Homeland Security insisted that protocols, dubbed Standard Operating Procedure 303, must be kept secret to protect national interests and the safety of individuals. However, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia disagreed.

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) wanted to know the protocols which govern shutting down wireless networks to prevent the remote detonation of bombs. Generally civil liberty groups don’t like the idea of switching off networks.

When EPIC first asked the Department for details, it said that it could not find any records on the kill switch. EPIC appealed, the agency found the protocol, but redacted most of it.

The court told Homeland Security that it wrongly claimed that it could withhold Standard Operating Procedure 303 because it was not a technique for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.

The court said that interpreting a safety exemption to “encompass possible harm to anyone anywhere in the United States within the blast radius of a hypothetical unexploded bomb also flies in the face of repeated Supreme Court directions.

Homeland Security is expected to appeal. Otherwise it has 30 days to release the protocols to EPIC. 

US Homeland Security supremo is an email luddite

The US government’s Homeland Security Tsar is so far out of touch with technology that she could be living on another planet in another dimension trying to play chess with Schrodinger’s cat.

It is one thing to say, in this day and age, that you can’t be bothered using a smartphone or a tablet, it is quite another to say you don’t look at email.

According to the new Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, she doesn’t use email because it is inefficient and “sucks up time”.   She prefers to dial someone on a landline and talk to them for half an hour to pass the same amount of information on.

According to the Hill she thinks it is also super efficient to hire someone to open your email because you are technophobe and tell you what other people are saying.

Avoiding email “allows me to focus on where I need to focus,” she growled. We guess that means that cyber-warfare will be off the agenda because if she does not think she needs to focus on her email chances are she will not think that electronic communication is something she needs to see either.

She apparently stopped using email in 2003 when she was the governor of Arizona and managed not to see one when she took over the DHS in 2009. So if you wondered why Homeland Security think it is great security to check your shoes and take your belt off before you board a plane, you know where these wizard ideas come from.

Napolitano said her email-less life also keeps her from being accused of seeing communications that may have come into her inbox.

“I also don’t like the process where people could send you an email and then say, ‘See, you were told.’ Or, ‘You know this.’ And then it comes back two years later to say, ‘Hey you got this email,'” she said.

Funny, in the communication age we call that sort of thing being an informed manager. 

FBI frustrated by private sector telcos

FBI agents are frustrated because private companies are getting in the way of their snooping – and are seen to be holding back implementing more sweeping surveillance of the web.

A CNET report has revealed the FBI has sought Homeland Security’s help in discovering cases that were “negatively impacted” by private companies which delayed investigations either inadvertently or did not immediately bend over to surveillance requests by the police. 

CNET’s report cites Cricket Communications, where federal authorities were irritated that the company allegedly hindered an investigation because the network was facing technical problems. These got in the way of a wiretap and location tracking.

Cricket told CNET that if requested disclosure is lawfully permitted, it hands over information to the authorities, but if not, it denies the request. 

The FBI’s anxiety about the efficiency of its data collection is part of a wider plan to appeal for major web companies to install back doors solely for the use of government surveillance, known as Going Dark. 

In a report acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Homeland Security acknowledged that other mobile and broadband companies had also caused problems for data gathering, including T-Mobile, Comcast and MetroPCS.

In Honolulu, Homeland Security whinged that there were delays of up to four months from Cricket and T-mobile after subpoenas had been issued. The Phoenix office, meanwhile, noted a large number of its targets were using Mexican Nextel phones.

Homeland Security also moaned that Comcast dragged its heels in replying to a customs summons because FBI agents wanted connection records, though they did not specify customer IP addresses.

One company the FBI will not have to worry about is Microsoft, which has been getting on the Federales’ good side by financing ‘fusion centres’ – hubs were the various tentacles of US surveillance collaborate and share whispers.