Worried about the NSA monitoring you? If you take certain steps to mask your identity online, such as using encryption service TOR, or even investigating an alternative to the buggy Windows operating system, you’re all but asking for “deep” monitoring by the NSA.
an encryption network developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
in the 1990s. The military’s hope was to enable government workers to search
the web without exposing their locations and identities. The system today is
widely available, runs on open source code and is popular among privacy
advocates as a more secure alternative to open Internet surfing, particularly
in countries with repressive regimes. It works by encrypting the user’s address
and routing the traffic through servers that are located around the world
(so-called “onion routing.”) How does theNSA access it? Through a computer
system called XKeyscore,
one of the various agency surveillance tools thatNSA leaker Edward Snowden
disclosed last summer.
to a recent report from the German media outletTagesschau,
a group of TOR affiliates working with Tagesschau looked into
code for XKeyscore. They found that nine servers running TOR,
including one at the MITComputer Science and Artificial Intelligence
Laboratory, were under constant NSA surveillance. The code also
revealed some of the behaviors that users could undertake to immediately be
tagged or “fingerprinted” for so-called deep packet inspection – in other words,
an investigation into the content of data packages you send across the
Internet, such as emails, web searches and browsing history.
you are located outside of the U.S., Canada, the U.K. or one of the
Eyes countries partnering with the NSA in its
surveillance efforts, then visiting the TOR website triggers an
automatic fingerprinting. In other words, simply investigating privacy-enhancing
methods from outside of the United States is an act worthy of scrutiny and
surveillance according to rules that make XKeyscore run.
Another infraction: hating Windows.
you visit the forum page for the popular Linux Journal, dedicated to the
open-source operating system Linux, you could be fingerprinted regardless of
where you live because the XKeystore source code designates the Linux Journal
as an “extremist forum.” Searching for the Tails, operating system, another
Windows alternative popular among human rights watchers, will also land you on
the deep-packet inspectee list.
fiction author Cory Doctorow, an editor at the popular technology blog Boing
Boing, was quick to take
exception to the findings, questioning not only the propriety of
the tactics revealed in the researchers’ report but also their utility.
and Tails have been part of the mainstream discussion of online security,
surveillance and privacy for years. It’s nothing short of bizarre to place
people under suspicion for searching for these terms.”
importantly, this shows that the NSA uses ‘targeted surveillance’ in
a way that beggars common sense. It’s a dead certainty that people who heard
the NSA’s reassurances about ‘targeting’ its surveillance on people who
were doing something suspicious didn’t understand that the NSA meant
people who’d looked up technical details about systems that are routinely
discussed on the front page of every newspaper in the world.
goes on to speculate, with the help of an anonymous expert, that the NSA’s
intention in marking the TOR-curious for monitoring was to “separate the
sheep from the goats — to split the entire population of the Internet into
‘people who have the technical know-how to be private’ and ‘people who don’t’
and then capture all the communications from the first group.”
other words, the better able you are at protecting your privacy online, the
more suspicious you become.
many sheep and how many goats are there? Not all of the XKeyscore
fingerprinting triggers apply to U.S. citizens, as mentioned above,
but some 14 percent of U.S. Internet users have taken some step to
mask their identity online using encryption according to
the PEW Internet and American Lifesurvey from
September of last year.
revelations underscore the fact that in the post-Snowden environment, privacy
is less of a given and more of a fast-paced cat and mouse game. An encryption
network, developed by the military, gains popularity among a public
increasingly worried about government surveillance. The network is then hacked
by the government that created it. Of course, you don’t have to be
the NSA to crack TO; you just need a bit of money. Two
researchers, Alexander Volynkin and Michael McCord, will presenting at the
popular Black Hat conference next month, a provocative session called “You
Don’t Have To Be the NSAto Break TOR: Deanonymzing Users On a
Budget.” They report that they can crack TOR and
disclose a specific user’s identity for just $3000.