privacy

SNOWDEN DESIGNS SMARTPHONE CASE THAT DETECTS HARMFUL MALWARE
September 23, 2016 9:18 am

According to a projection by Statista, the number of people using smartphones worldwide in 2016 is expected to be nearly 2.08 billion.  While the advantages of smartphones are numerous, they also present numerous opportunities for harmful attacks.

Malicious apps can transmit metadata to ad agencies, cyber criminals and identity thieves.  Hackers can access your phone’s native functions, such as the camera and voice-recorder.  These are merely a few examples.  There are numerous ways in which your phone can make your information vulnerable.  That said, there are several steps you can take to make your data more safe.

For example, recently Edward Snowden, and Andrew “Bunnie” Huang launched a malware detecting smartphone case, that can help protect your information and make you aware if your phone is at risk of unwanted surveillance.

In their paper titled “Against the Law: Countering Lawful Abuses of Digital Surveillance,Snowden and Huang discuss the implications of smartphone attacks with specific regard to journalists, stating that surveillance and access to metadata from unwanted third-parties “leaves journalists, activists, and rights workers in a position of vulnerability.” – Snowden, Huang 

Snowden and Huang developed an open-source tool called the introspection engine, to be attached to a phone and used to determine if the device is secure.

“As the project is run largely through volunteer efforts on a shoestring budget, it will proceed at a pace reflecting the practical limitations of donated time.” – Snowden, Huang

According to the article, Snowden and Huang plan to prototype throughout this year.  Although the introspection engine was designed specifically with regard to the iPhone, the processes involved could potentially be applied to other mobile devices. Snowden and Huang proposed that in the future these processes could be more quickly retrofitted for other operating systems.

References: Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang, Edward Snowden.  “Against the Law: Countering Lawful Abuses of Digital Surveillance.”  PubPub, (2016)

Featured Image Source – Flickr

HUMMINGBAD MALWARE COULD BE A GATEWAY FOR ADDITIONAL ROOTKITS
August 12, 2016 9:12 am

There has been a lot of buzz in the tech community recently about a particularly bad piece of Android malware called HummingBad. The malware infects Android phones when users accidentally download a malicious third-party app, or opt for an unverifiable download on a website which comes loaded with the HummingBad package.

Once HummingBad has infected the device, it establishes a persistent rootkit and takes over its native functions.  According to Check Point, an I.T. security company, once HummingBad has infected a device it can install fraudulent apps and even generate false revenue by tricking users into clicking fake ads and links. Check Point estimated that HummingBad was able to yield cyber-criminals nearly $300,000 a month, through this process of click fraud.

The group effectively controls an arsenal of over 85 million mobile devices around the world. – Check Point

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These types of click fraud campaigns are common, although often not as financially successful, and can present real issues when it comes to security. Rootkits are packets of malware that establish themselves at the core of the device, or “root,” and they are dangerous because they often hide their existence by maintaining the appearance of something that is not harmful. 

Many people whose devices have been infected with this type of malware are entirely unaware that they are being victimized by a cyber-attack, while at the same time their information is being stolen and sold to the highest bidder.

According to Check Point, the dangers of these types of malware go beyond individual users. Malware packages like HummingBad could be used to target government agencies and businesses. 

Emboldened by financial and technological independence, [cybercriminals’] skillsets will advance putting end users, enterprises, and government agencies at risk. – Check Point

According to Check Point, this malware attack was part of an elaborate scheme by the Chinese Yingmob, in which the malware was sending notifications to the Umeng tracking and analytics service.  Devices have been infected world-wide, with the primary number of infected users in China.

Malware attacks like this that rely on click fraud and that are money-generating are certainly dangerous, but what is perhaps even more frightening is the potential that these rootkits, and the access to your device, has the potential to be sold.  We are entering a time when access to certain peoples’ or companies’ device root is a highly valued black-market commodity.

“Check Point believes this dangerous trend will escalate as other groups learn from Yingmob and find new ways to achieve the independence they need to launch larger and more sophisticated attack campaigns in the future.” – Check Point

Regardless, taking the necessary precautions to ensure that a device does not become infected with malicious malware in the first place is the best step towards protection. Stay away from unverified third party apps, and make sure you know the source of files that you are downloading.

FACEBOOK MESSENGER ADDS END-TO-END ENCRYPTION
August 2, 2016 11:16 am

Encrypted web browsers and online privacy protection services are steadily increasing in popularity.  Many people browsing the web now wish to keep all of their online activity private. Tools like Tor and DuckDuckGo are used by many as a full substitute for more popular browsers and search engines. (i.e. Chrome, Google, Safari, etc.)  Naturally, messaging applications are incorporating methods for maintaining privacy as well.

Messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal have been on the tech scene for some time.  Now, Facebook Messenger is joining the ranks with the addition of Secret Conversations

According to Facebook, Secret Conversations in Messenger employs end-to-end encryption. This means that the messages you send will not be able to be accessed other than on the phone they are sent from and the phone on which they are opened.

End-to-end encryption can prevent numerous potential privacy dangers, including things like unwanted surveillance, malicious third-party intrusions and tampering with data. Without the cryptographic key, the encrypted information is extremely difficult to access. Theoretically, this means that even Facebook would not be able to access your messages, regardless if they are in the Facebook Messenger App.  Even with all that, even end-to-end encryption does not absolutely guarantee that these messages will not be leaked according to Facebook.

Keep in mind that the person you’re messaging could choose to share the conversation with others (ex: a screenshot).  -Facebook

Facebook has incorporated a function called “device keys” in which you can compare a key with the other person in the Secret Conversation, in order to make sure that the conversation will remain encrypted. There are some limitations to what you can send in a Secret Conversations, including the fact that as of yet, the new feature does not support group messages.

Secret conversations don’t support group messages, gifs, videos, voice or video calling or payments.  -Facebook

According to Facebook, the service is still in the preliminary phases and is being released on a “limited test basis.  That said, now that widely used messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger are incorporating end-to-end encryption as a primary feature, this may become the industry standard for messaging services developed in the future.

Featured Image Source – TechCrunch

TOR PROJECT COMBINES WITH HOME ASSISTANT TO PROTECT INTERNET OF THINGS
July 26, 2016 11:58 am

Many people know of Tor, and the Tor Network, as a way to preserve anonymity online.  What is less known is that Tor began as a U.S intelligence communications tool, but was repurposed in 2006 by the nonprofit The Tor Project

Since this transition, Tor has developed into a service that is used by multitudes of internet users across the globe.  Tor users can download The Tor Browser, which is free and open-source, to connect to the Tor Network and browse the web, or send messages, while keeping their information private and anonymous. 

Some people associate Tor with the dark web, and people who wish to browse hidden, unmonitored areas of webspace for official purposes, whether malicious or benevolent.  In actuality, many people that use Tor are simply normal, everyday individuals surfing the web.  The reasons behind using Tor are many: protecting against identity theft, maintaining online privacy, avoiding censorship, discussing socially sensitive information, etc.

According to The Tor Project FAQ, regular users include, but are not limited to: journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, military officials, business owners, bloggers, IT professionals, whistleblowers and many more. 

Using Tor protects you against a common form of Internet surveillance known as “traffic analysis.” Traffic analysis can be used to infer who is talking to whom over a public network. Knowing the source and destination of your Internet traffic allows others to track your behavior and interests. – The Tor Project

Now, The Tor Project is expanding its functionality to include privacy for “The Internet of Things” (IoT).  The Internet of Things is a term used to reference the interconnection of anything that has the potential to be connected to the internet, or that functions in a digital space.

“The Internet of Things” is the remote control and networking of everyday devices ranging from a family’s lawn sprinkler or babycam to a corporation’s entire HVAC system.” – The Tor Project

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By using Home Assistant, an automation platform that runs on the programming language Python 3, Tor is incorporating privacy technology into everyday life, rather than exclusively online. In regard to the digitization of everyday tasks, jobs and items, as well as the IoT, taking measures to ensure privacy now demands attention beyond monitoring your web presence.

This project was developed by Nathan Freitas, Executive Director of The Guardian Project, which also focuses on maintaining privacy through mobile device customization and the development of encrypted mobile applications.

Too many ‘Things’ in our homes, at our hospitals, in our businesses and throughout our lives are exposed to the public Internet without the ability to protect their communication. Tor provides this, for free, with real-world hard ended, open-source software and strong, state of the art cryptography. – Nathan Freitas

It may be a while before Tor users and people browsing regularly on the Tor Browser rival the number of people using more popular web browsers like Chrome, Safari or Firefox. That said, in regard to the speed at which technology changes, the development of Tor Home Assistant may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ensuring privacy for everything, not just your computer.

For more information check out the Home Assistant page for Tor setup, dubbed “Home Assistant Cookbook.”

SERF-ING WITH JONS
June 6, 2016 11:57 am

When there’s a will, there’s a way. Jons is celebrating the May 29th release of their debut album Serfs of Today. It was recorded on iPhone, and led to the band’s signing with Solitaire Recordings. The album was so good, that Solitaire decided to release it as-is.

The Victoria (Canada, not Australia) band is also about to embark on 29-date tour, including a show supporting fellow Canadian Alex Calder. And, believe it or not, Jons is already working on a follow-up album.

ATYPICAL SOUNDS spoke with frontman Patrick Rendell on how all of this craziness came to be.

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Congratulations on your new album and your signing to Solitaire. What would you like people to know about your band?

We’ve all been living on Vancouver Island for 5 or 6 years. The band started out with Logan, David, and me making music casually and then the band was fully formed when Logan and Keenan met painting houses.

I’ve heard your album Serfs of Today was recorded on iPhone and cassette. Is that true?

Yeah, that is partly true. There was a period where we didn’t really have the means to record drums (and didn’t really know how to either) and so David would play drums on an app on his iPhone directly into the tape machine. For “Orcachief” I played floor tom and snare while David played ride symbol on his iPhone to get the effect of a full kit.

You’re getting ready for a 29-date tour around Canada. Is this your first tour of that size?

It’s been a lot of work setting up the tour and it makes it harder that we haven’t actually done this before. The longest tour we’ve done so far is to Calgary and back so this is a completely different ballgame.

What are your favorite items to pick up at Tim Horton’s to keep you going?

One good way to prepare is to abstain from Hortons’ until you leave so you have a fresh palette. Keenan’s favourite donut is the Old Fashioned.

You will also be performing a show with Alex Calder on your tour. How did you get involved with him?

Bands in Canada are very interconnected and chances are you always know someone who knows someone. In this case our friends Freak Heat Waves were already playing the show and we were going to be in Montreal at the same time. Logan’s brother also plays in Alex’s band so it just worked out.

You seem like a band that would know a lot about psychedelic music. Are there any albums you’d recommend to someone looking to expand their record collection?

Some albums we’d recommend checking out are A Lovely Sight by Pisces, God Bless Tiny Tim by Tiny Tim, Playback by The Appletree Theatre, July’s self titled album and Release of an Oath by Electric Prunes. Also [Pink Floyd album] The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and Friends by The Beach Boys are staples.

Are you working on a followup for Serfs of Today?

We’ve actually been working on our followup to Serfs of Today for coming up on two years now. Dave picked up a Tascam 388 and has become really good with it so it’s a noticeable step up in fidelity. Having Keenan play on the record has been a big deal too. He didn’t play on Serfs of Today and he’s an incredible musician. His playing on the tracks has had a huge effect on our recordings. We’ve been working on it for a very long time and we’ve each grown quite a bit individually as musicians in the process.

Will you be be doing any recording with iPhones, as in Serfs of Today?

No iPhones were used in the making of the record.

I think you’re the first band I’ve interviewed from Victoria. What’s the music scene like there?

It’s really great. It’s a small city but for the size there’s tons of really great bands. Sometimes people pass it by on tour because they don’t want to make the trip to the island but there’s some very cool stuff going on here. I’d highly recommend coming here and checking it out if you get the chance.

Which venues in Victoria are your favorite for seeing live music?

Some of the classic spots to see bands play are Logan’s and the Copper Owl. There’s also a bunch of nightclubs and a thriving scene of DIY spots that are really great to play at.

Are there any local bands you feel deserve more attention?

Some bands you should check out are Privacy, Pinner, Smoke Eaters, Psychosomatic Itch and Fountain. There’s also a small local tape label called Gary Cassettes and everything they’ve put out has been really sweet.

What will you be up to after your tour?

After tour we’re gonna focus on new music. After working on the same songs for so long we’re really stoked to get started on something new.

Will you be performing at any music festivals?

We’re playing at Sled Island in Calgary but thats our only festival this summer.

DJ SNOWDEN REQUESTS AN EXIT
April 28, 2016 6:00 am

Trapped in Moscow and bored out of his mind (snowed in?), NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden got busy with some turntables. The resulting track is “Exit,” and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s incredibly frantic, high-energy EDM, reminiscent of that moment in movies when shit gets real and everything explodes. But just because I don’t want to listen to it doesn’t mean it isn’t legit af.

Legendary electronic music pioneer and longtime French celebrity Jean Michel Jarre collaborated with Snowden during his ongoing politically charged exile from the United States. Snowden, of course, released classified information about the National Security Agency in 2013, and has been a vocal opponent of government surveillance ever since. After the first three-ish minutes of manic house music, “Exit” slows down for Snowden’s passionate voiceover:

“Technology can actually increase privacy. The question is: why are our private details that are transmitted online, and why are private details that are stored on our personal devices, any different than the details and private records of our lives that are stored in our private journals? (Stored in our private journals?) I think, you know, saying that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say. It’s a deeply antisocial principle, because rights are not just individual, they’re collective. And what may not have value to you today may have value to an entire, you know, population, an entire people, or an entire way of life tomorrow. And if you don’t stand up for it, then who will? (And if you don’t stand up for it, then who will?)

Then it returns to it’s pulsating house vibe, repeating and if you don’t stand up for it then who will a few times for good measure. Powerful question indeed, what with the NSA and all, but the real message is something more personal, more immediate: Snowden would like to leave Russia. In case the music isn’t crazy, stressful, “get-me-out-of-here” enough, the name “Exit” should also give it away. He’s even offered to go to jail in the US if it means seeing his family. Fuck all the noise and bullshit, this human being just wants to go home.

Speaking of which, Academy Award®-winning director Oliver Stone & company just released the trailer for their new biographical political-thriller. Snowden is scheduled to be released September 16th: