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NSA: Targeted Investigations, Exploits, Tech Innovations and Political Pressure

Over the past few days, there has been a whirl wind of developments ahead of President Obama’s address on NSA reforms.  So here’s what you need to know.  The New America Foundation (an independent research firm) has released a report on the impact mass surveillance has had on the fight against terrorism.  The study concluded that the majority of the foiled terrorist plots were accredited to traditional investigation techniques, and that mass surveillance and data collection has largely been ineffective in detecting terror plots.  This essentially backs up a common theme regarding mass surveillance by most former NSA employees.  Canadians should be following the development in this report as well, since our law enforcement is calling for mass surveillance powers in the form of lawful access legislation in it’s cyber bullying bill C-13.

On the technical side of things, it’s long been suspected that if you intentionally create a back door for law enforcement that it could be exploited by our adversaries as well.  A researcher has been able to derail and exploit hardware back doors “with ease” created for mass surveillance by dual use technology companies such as CISCO and Huawei.  CISCO and Huawei are the two main networking hardware providers for Canadian Internet service providers. If the researcher can access these back doors with ease, other state sponsored hackers will have the capability to do so as well, and probably have for some time.  Bell Mobility, and Bell’s Internet services use Huawei.  Shaw and Rogers both use CISCO.

In tech innovations, the response to the NSA in the private sector is going to be massive.  I remember when I had a twitter conversation with a few of my techie tweeps a while ago about what has exactly changed as a result of the NSA leaks.  Tech innovation right now takes about 18 months if not sooner (and is expected to speed up to half that in 3 years due to the annual doubling of computing power) , however we are starting to see tech innovations poke out in alpha stages only 7 months after the leaks broke.

A tech innovator has created an NSA-proof version of twitter called “Twister”.  It combines open source code from bit torrent and bitcoin to in theory scramble the IP addresses of it’s users, making users anonymous.   I would suspect as we get closer to May 2014, we’ll start to see more, and more innovations to curtail mass surveillance come out in the beta-alpha stage of development.

I’ve been trying to follow what is going on in Obama’s head right now through statements from the white house and press on the subject.  Last Thursday, he met with privacy advocates, and the press was reporting that he may just curb spying on Americans.  Last Friday he met with IT companies who are extremely worried right now over their businesses.  Friday the press was reporting that he may go a lot further than just Americans, and that he wants to implement some changes right away but reserves the right to comment further.  In other words his decisions on Friday may not be the only ones forthcoming.  From the sounds of it, he hasn’t made up his mind yet, but would suspect based on the above, that he may end up surprising all of us, and go a lot further than the press was expecting on last Thursday. There’s a lot of domestic and international political pressure to really coming out swinging on the NSA right now.  This weekend former conservative/republican presidential candidate John McCain piped up wanting a full investigation into the matter, and called the current NSA spying an “overreach” of government.

Whatever the case maybe, Canadians need to keep an eye on the next few days with interest.  Any decision made will profoundly effect our digital economy and policy up here in the great white north.

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  1. January 15, 2014 at 5:42 PM

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