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Inside the Matrix
March 16, 2012 11:49 AM   Subscribe

In Inside The Matrix James Bamford, author of The Puzzle Palace and The Shadow Factory, reports about the NSA's new US$ 2 billion data center being built in a remote corner of Utah. A follow up of sorts to last year's Post-9/11, NSA 'Enemies' Include Us, Inside the Matrix marks the first time a former NSA official has gone on the record to reveal details of the scope and scale of the NSA's domestic intercept program, codenamed Stellar Wind.
posted by ob1quixote (71 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
The war on terror won't be won until we're all terrorists.
posted by Naberius at 11:51 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Do you think that's government you're breathing?
posted by Fizz at 11:55 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


When all you have is a very expensive boot, everyone else looks like something to stomp on, forever.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:57 AM on March 16, 2012 [25 favorites]


Does anyone know how long are we supposed to applaud?
posted by CautionToTheWind at 11:57 AM on March 16, 2012 [18 favorites]


And now we're all on a list.
posted by The Whelk at 11:58 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The war on terror won't be won until we're all terrorists.

Or we sign a treaty with the Concept of Terrorism.
posted by DU at 11:59 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you read to the end of the article you see that the initial targets are already weakly-encrypted messages with predictable internal structure. Some basic obfuscatory techniques (padding, word reordering) and multiple AES rounds should render the thing obsolete out of the box.
posted by clarknova at 11:59 AM on March 16, 2012


I first read that as "the NEA's new US$ 2 billion..." and choked on my water. I guess they could give pixar a run for their money and produce awesome stuff not meant to sell toys.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 11:59 AM on March 16, 2012


...and that is but one (though huge) agency...to see what else has been taking place, see


Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by William M. Arkin and Dana Priest (Sep 6, 2011)

The Patriot Act created a thriving business for a lot of people, agencies, both public and private.
posted by Postroad at 12:00 PM on March 16, 2012


I first read that as "the NEA's new US$ 2 billion..." and choked on my water.

I just had a vision of something awesome.
posted by odinsdream at 12:01 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hello Big Brother!
posted by wuwei at 12:15 PM on March 16, 2012


'Stellar Wind'? A $2 billion dollar fart joke.
posted by narcoleptic at 12:17 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have you guys gotten into the meat of the article, yet? Holy fuck:
He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.

...

Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there.

...

After he left the NSA, Binney suggested a system for monitoring people’s communications according to how closely they are connected to an initial target. The further away from the target—say you’re just an acquaintance of a friend of the target—the less the surveillance. But the agency rejected the idea, and, given the massive new storage facility in Utah, Binney suspects that it now simply collects everything. “The whole idea was, how do you manage 20 terabytes of intercept a minute?” he says. “The way we proposed was to distinguish between things you want and things you don’t want.” Instead, he adds, “they’re storing everything they gather.” And the agency is gathering as much as it can.

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.


The NSA also has the ability to eavesdrop on phone calls directly and in real time. According to Adrienne J. Kinne, who worked both before and after 9/11 as a voice interceptor at the NSA facility in Georgia, in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks “basically all rules were thrown out the window, and they would use any excuse to justify a waiver to spy on Americans.” Even journalists calling home from overseas were included. “A lot of time you could tell they were calling their families,” she says, “incredibly intimate, personal conversations.” Kinne found the act of eavesdropping on innocent fellow citizens personally distressing. “It’s almost like going through and finding somebody’s diary,” she says.
Jesus fucking Christ. And the FISA Amendments Act basically made it so that we will never learn the true extent of the program via discovery in a legal action. And I have no doubt that Binney and Kinne and anyone else who dares to talk about this will be next on the government's whistleblowers-to-charge-via-the-Espionage Act list. And despite those warnings from Wyden and Udall that the government had a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act that we'd be horrified to learn about, there were never any hearings or anything, so leaks like this article are probably the closest we'll ever come to figuring it out. I'm assuming it has to do with the Business Records provisions and some interpretation of the third party doctrine that says any of your information that's stored on some company's server somewhere can be requested by the government without a warrant, and then shipped off to have its encryption cracked and contents stored in this data center forever.

Anybody think we can get Democratic nomination campaign/con law professor Obama to have a word with President Obama about this?
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 12:23 PM on March 16, 2012 [22 favorites]


I'm just banking on the doofus in charge forgetting to turn on the AC. $2B up in smoke in thirty seconds.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:25 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


A major Salt Lake city suburb with a 6-lane loop and close to I-15 is not a "remote corner of Utah" or "a little town of Bluffdale". If everyone's editorializing details like that, I immediately start wondering what else is being embellished.
posted by crapmatic at 12:27 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Anybody think we can get Democratic nomination campaign/con law professor Obama to have a word with President Obama about this?

Obama is so unclear on his constitutional role he (awkwardly) returns the salutes of his honor guard. I know his constitutional credentials look great on paper, but in practice he's just a resume.
posted by clarknova at 12:31 PM on March 16, 2012


crapmatic: "A major Salt Lake city suburb with a 6-lane loop and close to I-15 is not a "remote corner of Utah" or "a little town of Bluffdale". If everyone's editorializing details like that, I immediately start wondering what else is being embellished."

"Remote corner of Utah" was my mistake. I didn't look it up on a map. I went by the photo and the took the description in the article to mean Bluffdale was far from major cities. I regret the error.

However, I wouldn't take Bamford's description of Bluffdale as a "little town" as an inaccuracy. For example, I'm only 20 miles from the state capitol building here, but I still live in a little town.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:35 PM on March 16, 2012


Never let it be said that our NSA and govt does not have a keen sense of humor. If you want to know whether NSA is allowed to monitor domestic electronics, you need only consult their Mission Statement. What does that say? Oh. Classified information so we can not tell you.
posted by Postroad at 12:36 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obama is so unclear on his constitutional role he (awkwardly) returns the salutes of his honor guard. I know his constitutional credentials look great on paper, but in practice he's just a resume.

To be fair, I'm a recent law school grad, and nobody taught us proper saluting etiquette, but they DID teach us about the GODDAMN WARRANT REQUIREMENT
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 12:41 PM on March 16, 2012 [16 favorites]


Isn't this the premise to Persons of Interest? "You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror but it sees everything. . . ."
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:53 PM on March 16, 2012


Thinking about it more, the stock market is going to behave stranger and stranger as this asymmetry of information develops. Imagine trading with access to that! To call it insider trading would be an understatement. Overseer trading.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:05 PM on March 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


So glad we apparently have billions to pump into spying on citizens instead of wasting it on stupid stuff like, say, the space program.
posted by xedrik at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't this the premise to Persons of Interest?

What scares me about that show is not the cheese factor (PoI in my current guilty pleasure), it's the fact that the technology behind what they are doing appears to be completely possible.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2012


wasting it on stupid stuff like, say, the space program.

Or education. Or research. Or health care. Or energy development. Or...
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:21 PM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


I still say that if terrorists were just itching to get us, one would have stuck some C4 up his ass, boarded a plane, and taken it out of the sky. So I'm a little suspicious that we really need all this internal security structure we're paying billions and billions for.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:22 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


clarknova: "Obama is so unclear on his constitutional role he (awkwardly) returns the salutes of his honor guard."

To be fair, the motive underlying this is more likely political rather than a misunderstanding of his constitutional role. If he didn't salute, he'd be excoriated as not respecting The Troops™. The good news is that, like so much else wrong with America in the 21st Century, you can put the blame on Reagan.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:31 PM on March 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


The plan was launched in 2004 as a modern-day Manhattan Project. [...] Such a mammoth amount of energy comes with a mammoth price tag—about $40 million a year, according to one estimate. [...] it will have an extraordinary appetite for electricity, eventually using about 200 megawatts, enough to power 200,000 homes. The computer will also produce a gargantuan amount of heat, requiring 60,000 tons of cooling equipment, the same amount that was needed to serve both of the World Trade Center towers.

How delusional is this? As a country, we are facing upcoming energy and resource shortages, a growing population, an increasingly polluted and damaged ecosystem which our government is doing little to address. Instead, we are funding "Manhattan Projects" whose purpose is to make sure that a small group of people in the government can be as near to omniscient as possible and use a boatload of energy in the process. I can't help but think if we invested these resources into providing real security - in the way of natural resources, social wellness, and environmental repair - we'd be much better off.
posted by nTeleKy at 1:38 PM on March 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


I still say that if terrorists were just itching to get us, one would have stuck some C4 up his ass, boarded a plane, and taken it out of the sky.

Or detonated an extremely large suitcase bomb in the dense snake lines before the ID queue in front of the screening area. When it comes to "spreading terror" this would actually be more effective than trying to crash a plane. It would send the message that you can never have enough checkpoints and you can never be completely safe. The NSA's position is in order to thwart this kind of escalation you need to read everyone's mind, or at get as close to that as you can.


How delusional is this?

There are two possible responses to terrorism:

1) Treat the matter as a law enforcement issue and track down the guilty parties with careful police work. Extradite, try, convict, punish.
2) Go to war and turn your society into a police state.

Bin Laden rightly understood us to be a nation of flabby authoritarians who would panic and take the latter course. It was the perfect cover the intelligence community needed to grab everything it wanted, thus cannibalising the democracy that gave it birth. Everyone but the other 300 million of us got what they wanted.


To be fair, the motive underlying this is more likely political rather than a misunderstanding of his constitutional role. If he didn't salute, he'd be excoriated as not respecting The Troops

You can tell from his awkward, hesitant body language when he does it that's exactly his reasoning. Instead of anticipating the blow and cringing, he could anticipate and cockblock with a three line press release:
The President of the United States is an elected civilian official, not a soldier. He has rank, but is not enlisted or commissioned. Therefore it is not appropriate for him to issue a salute.
He doesn't need to cower in the face of the echo chamber. He's already been elected. Play that eleven dimensional chess and get on with your life. Maybe dust off that degree in Con Law.
posted by clarknova at 2:10 PM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


For real though, I don't get why you think that's something that you learn in law school. I'd never heard of it before your earlier comment. If anything, it sounds like a matter of military protocol - who can/should issue salutes?
posted by cobra_high_tigers at 2:23 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone want to venture a guess as to how many foreign agents that $2 billion could have paid off?
posted by indubitable at 2:24 PM on March 16, 2012


The next major war the u.s. fights will be against its own citizens; it has of course already begun but is yet not a shooting war. This is them trying to keep it that way.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:34 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Additional points of interest:
global Internet traffic will quadruple from 2010 to 2015, reaching 966 exabytes per year [...] the Pentagon is attempting to expand its worldwide communications network, known as the Global Information Grid, to handle yottabytes

So that would mean they would have the capacity to store all of the current global internet traffic...

In the wake of the [wiretapping] program’s exposure, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which largely made the practices legal. Telecoms that had agreed to participate in the illegal activity were granted immunity from prosecution and lawsuits. [...] The network of intercept stations goes far beyond the single room in an AT&T building in San Francisco exposed by a whistle-blower in 2006. “I think there’s 10 to 20 of them,”

So after they broke the law, the law was simply amended so it would no longer be a crime and then the people who participated were granted immunity. This is not only still going on, but now that it is de facto legal, it is likely being expanded. Additionally, any legal concerns in the future can be easily dismissed, because if it turns out they've broken the law, the law can just be changed.

Once a name is entered into the Narus database, all phone calls and other communications to and from that person are automatically routed to the NSA’s recorders.

Paging Harry Tuttle. Also, since their capacity for storage is so immense, this means that practically speaking, once you have been "flagged" all of your communications will likely be stored into the future, giving them the ability to retroactively find evidence of crimes or details of your personal life if they ever have that desire. Which, you know, sets up some serious concerns for abuse and harassment. Piss off the wrong person, they make some calls to the NSA, next thing you know you're on the news.

According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.” [...] “They made a big breakthrough,” says another former senior intelligence official, who helped oversee the program. The NSA’s machine was likely similar to the unclassified Jaguar, but it was much faster out of the gate, modified specifically for cryptanalysis and targeted against one or more specific algorithms, like the AES. In other words, they were moving from the research and development phase to actually attacking extremely difficult encryption systems. [...] The breakthrough was enormous, says the former official, and soon afterward the agency pulled the shade down tight on the project, even within the intelligence community and Congress."

This, however, is huge. Cryptographic algorithms can have weaknesses that are unknown or unexploitable with current systems. I have no idea what this "breakthrough" might be, but I do know that massive data sets and computing power, not to mention whatever specialized hardware they have, are a great way to find and exploit weaknesses in cryptography. The less is said, the greater the importance of the findings. I have no idea what this means, but it sounds pretty serious.

“We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says.

A "turnkey totalitarian state" about sums it up, and it's the reason I don't like entrusting my information to companies, either - sure, my privacy might be respected now, but what happens when you have another CEO or president or whoever that doesn't have that respect but still has all the capabilities and all my information?

TOO MANY SECRETS
posted by nTeleKy at 2:36 PM on March 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


CautionToTheWind: "Does anyone know how long are we supposed to applaud?"

Not sure, but I know you get 2 minutes to hate.
posted by symbioid at 2:46 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember when Puzzle Palace came out. I remember the first people that told me about the book (hardware designers from MIT) sort of shaking their heads and saying things like, 'We damn well better pay attention to this stuff, or ... "

Looks like they were right.

Oh, and nTeleKy, I say you should look into Setec Astronomy.
posted by Relay at 2:46 PM on March 16, 2012


Can I fix this by switching to DuckDuckGo?
posted by Bokononist at 2:47 PM on March 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


There is the somewhat naive notion that a guy being liberal before being in a place of power with access to all sorts of things we know not of, and surrounded by those with vested interests and views they impose or suggest to that newly crowned person, will nonetheless stay true to his earlier easy going views of things. We learn this is not so. Actually domestic spying was suggested to Bush BEFORE 9/11. And now O., in charge, not only seems to support this but additionally adds to other areas as well. Did you know about the 3 Americans killed by our drones in Somalia? VIDEO ON EXPANDED USE OF DRONES
posted by Postroad at 2:58 PM on March 16, 2012


If the Terrorists hated our Freedoms, they have been unequivocally victorious.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:01 PM on March 16, 2012 [14 favorites]


So does this mean I should shut the hell up and watch what I say?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:11 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Between this and the new RIAA deal with ISPs to disconnect users after 5 warnings. I'm really beginning to think the hackers best get their asses on the /r/darknetplan.
posted by symbioid at 3:12 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


“A lot of time you could tell they were calling their families,” she says
Wait, if she's supposed to a 'voice interceptor', then she would just know that they were calling their families. There wouldn't be any 'you could tell' required.
posted by memebake at 3:28 PM on March 16, 2012


That article was the most sobering thing I've read in a long time. Now we know we definitely don't have any privacy anymore (without a lot of encryption.)
posted by gen at 3:33 PM on March 16, 2012


Chatter laid a convincing case - several years ago now - that the NSA (and its foreign allies) had re-oriented itself around the harvest and analysis of plain-text communications of all types. This data center seems to fit right in to that trend.
posted by Western Infidels at 3:47 PM on March 16, 2012


A major Salt Lake city suburb with a 6-lane loop and close to I-15 is not a "remote corner of Utah" or "a little town of Bluffdale".

From a bicoastal standpoint, it is.
posted by madcaptenor at 4:06 PM on March 16, 2012


Maybe the best thing we have so far for the darknet is the SSL extension NPN which allows creating an unadvertised TOR connection. All TOR handshaking is behind the curtain of deniable encryption. That's IETF Draft agl-tls-nextprotoneg-00 if ya wanna Google it up. See section 4.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:09 PM on March 16, 2012


Seems like snail mail has become the only secure means of communication outside of talking in person. Wow, what am I saying? What do I even mean by secure anymore?
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:31 PM on March 16, 2012


Someday, I hope there is a mechanism to retrieve my whereabouts, contacts, and the total recordings of my phone conversations. It would be great to get back those calls with dead relatives, or to know exactly where I was and what I was doing this day five years ago.
posted by fake at 4:51 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would also like to retrieve your whereabouts, contacts, and the total recordings of your phone conversations. I expect both our wishes will come true!
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:55 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I first read that as "the NEA's new US$ 2 billion..." and choked on my water.


...the Monterey Bay Aquarium will be closed for the next few weeks in preparation for Andres Serrano's new exhibit.....
posted by Senor Cardgage at 5:00 PM on March 16, 2012


Some basic obfuscatory techniques (padding, word reordering) and multiple AES rounds should render the thing obsolete out of the box.

Um. I wouldn't bet on that. I think that multiple rounds of anything will just be calling attention to yourself, in a way that can be flagged algorithmically. They buy an awful lot of hardware, and they hire an awful lot of extraordinarily smart people to make it go.

AES-128 is considered sufficient for information up to level "secret" only; AES-256 is for "top secret". Both are part of the NSA's Suite B series of cryptographic algorithms.

Suite A will never see the light of day, not even so much as their names. The important thing that this suggests is that the NSA may internally have a class break for their recommended Series B crypto algorithms, or at least an attack that makes decryption computationally feasible for a small set of people that includes themselves.

I would not assume anything other than "if the Sauron's Eye of the NSA points itself at me, they'll be able to read my email. Point." If your actions need to be shielded from that eye, any other assumption is bad risk management.
posted by mhoye at 6:56 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I agree. It's safest to just assume you're always being watched--and to say and do things every now and then to mess with whoever might be watching you a little so they know you're sort of keeping a sleepy eye on them, too. (Of course, that kind of thing can come off making you look a little on the crazy side, if you take it too far. But ironically, it just might be the closest we can get to any real personal dignity anymore.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:47 PM on March 16, 2012


AES-128 is considered sufficient for information up to level "secret" only; AES-256 is for "top secret". Both are part of the NSA's Suite B series of cryptographic algorithms.
ok, but what do you think this means?
According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”
posted by b1tr0t at 7:51 PM on March 16, 2012


er my bad, that's what you said next.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2012


er my bad, that's what you said next.

Funny story: in 1993, the NSA released SHA, the Secure Hashing Algorithm. Very soon afterwards - months, I think - they came back and said no, stop, don't use that. Use SHA-1 instead, here you go, no explanation, nothing; that information might as well have been brought down on graven tablets from the top of Mount Meade, but nobody else could even begin to make a case either way, so SHA-1 it is.

It's 2005 before somebody manages to generate one, just one, collision in what's now called SHA-0, and they do that by taking a theoretical attack that gets you close to a collision, generalizing it and running it for what amounts to 80,000 CPU hours, a supercomputer with 256 Itanium 2 processors running flat out for two weeks.

That hardware simply didn't exist in 1993. That was the year Doom came out, for what it's worth, so t's very likely that the "significant weakness" they found was found by a person or team of people scribbling on a whiteboard. And, note, they found the weaknesses in that algorithm in the weeks after publication when those holes would take the public-facing crypto community more than a decade to learn were even possible.

So, yeah, if they want to read your email they can probably read your email.
posted by mhoye at 9:34 PM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hmm. Cisco sells ASA's that can perform 40gbps deep packet inspection.

When they came out I thought "holy crap, who needs inspection on that scale? Who the hell has a 40 gig Internet perimeter?" then I immediately thought of Mae west and east, and the Westin in Seattle and realized these are probably being ordered by the thousands by the NSA for packet inspection and capture.

It's so easily plausible to accomplish TIA that I'm both nonplussed and depressed at the same time to read this article.

AES 2048 go! And maybe re-key every minute?
posted by roboton666 at 9:59 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


holy crap, who needs inspection on that scale?
There are definitely clients at the Westin that move data at that level and need deep packet inspection just for DDOS mitigation. Look carefully at the SSP60 specs - the max throughput is 40 Gbps, but it can only handle nine million packets per second. The more features you turn on, the more the throughput will drop.

The really interesting problem, though, is streaming all that data out to disk and then doing something useful with it.
That was the year Doom came out, for what it's worth, so t's very likely that the "significant weakness" they found was found by a person or team of people scribbling on a whiteboard.
I'd be willing to bet that the NSA is a very nice place to work for socially awkward autistic savants.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:34 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I agree. It's safest to just assume you're always being watched--and to say and do things every now and then to mess with whoever might be watching you a little so they know you're sort of keeping a sleepy eye on them, too.

A friend and I like to play a game where we pretend that major terrorist suspects are living in his spare room. We have heated discussions about how rude Terrorist X is to not put the cap on the toothpaste or how Terrorist Y needs to stop playing Call of Duty and clean the kitchen.

If people monitor my meaningless cell phone conversations on Panopticonish grounds I feel obliged to mess with them.
posted by winna at 1:52 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Janek?! There is not Mrs. Janek!!!
posted by thewalrus at 7:46 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


If people monitor my meaningless cell phone conversations on Panopticonish grounds I feel obliged to mess with them.

Not the hill you want to die on, I think.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:57 AM on March 17, 2012


Blind them?
posted by Relay at 11:14 AM on March 17, 2012


In other surveillance news: Big Romney is watching you: Romney’s private equity firm is helping China create an all-seeing surveillance system -- the free market at work
posted by homunculus at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now that they know we know that they know what we know, now what!?
posted by fuq at 2:51 PM on March 17, 2012


But they don't know that we know that they know we know they know. You know?
posted by cnelson at 3:52 PM on March 17, 2012


Funny story: in 1993, the NSA released SHA, the Secure Hashing Algorithm. Very soon afterwards - months, I think - they came back and said no, stop, don't use that.

Similar thing with DES. It was based on a design by IBM, and the NSA took it and said, Hm, pretty good, but let's just make these few apparently-inconsequential changes to the s-boxes — okay, now you can use it as the standard encryption algorithm. Lots of people suspected the NSA of having inserted some kind of backdoor or weakness that only they could break. A decade or more later, differential cryptanalysis was invented in the open community, and it was discovered that the new s-boxes were much more resistant than the originals had been.

The NSA has the job both of spying on other nations' signals and keeping our own secure. Historically, it seems, they've actually taken that second mission seriously when curating federal cryptography standards.

One wonders whether they can still pursue both goals now that the walls between domestic and foreign spying have come down and the inherent conflict is more acute.
posted by hattifattener at 6:52 PM on March 17, 2012


surely only people with something to hide need to worry about this...
posted by dougiedd at 7:40 PM on March 17, 2012


One wonders whether they can still pursue both goals now that the walls between domestic and foreign spying have come down and the inherent conflict is more acute.

The enemy of the NSA is now the NSA. Stronger cryptographic security secures the efficacy of code breaking. Stronger code breaking un-secures the efficacy of cryptographic security. As privacy strengthens, secrets stay secret. As surveillance deepens, secrets ... do not. What the NSA makes, the NSA unmakes. Now that their mission has recursed in on itself not even the NSA encryption schemes will be safe from the watchful eye of the NSA.

The NSA wins, or the NSA wins. Either way, the NSA loses.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:01 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Doubling down on 9/11: A decade after the attacks, our national security regime continues to grow ever more punitive and secretive
posted by homunculus at 1:02 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Brin weighs in.
posted by bukvich at 1:08 PM on March 19, 2012


FreeS/WAN is dead.

Too bad.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:47 PM on March 22, 2012


In other news, Setec Astronomy is pleased to announce its new partnership with the Utah Chamber of Commerce.
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:50 PM on March 22, 2012


U.S. Relaxes Limits on Use of Data in Terror Analysis
posted by homunculus at 12:51 PM on March 23, 2012


Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market-place, and cried incessantly: "I am looking for Privacy! I am looking for Privacy!"

As many of those who did not believe in Privacy were standing together there, he excited considerable laughter. Have you lost it, then? said one. Did it lose its way like a child? said another. Or is it hiding? Is it afraid of us? Has it gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they shouted and laughed. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

"Where has Privacy gone?" he cried. "I shall tell you. We have killed it - you and I. We are murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is it not more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying Privacy? Do we not smell anything yet of Privacy's decomposition? Concepts too decompose. Privacy is dead. Privacy remains dead. And we have killed. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? There has never been a greater deed; and whosoever shall be born after us - for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground, and it broke and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time has not come yet. The tremendous event is still on its way, still travelling - it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the distant stars - and yet they have done it themselves."

It has been further related that on that same day the madman entered divers churches and there sang a requiem. Led out and quietened, he is said to have retorted each time: "what are these walls now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of Privacy?"
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:02 PM on March 23, 2012


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