Late Night Paranoia Open Thread

Something happening here… I have absolutely no idea how to judge to quality of the latest Alarming Security News, which is why I’m sharing it with you late-night/left-coast tech people. First story I ran across was in Mother Jones:

The NSA, responsible for intercepting communications around the world, appears to be the latest victim of hacking, at least indirectly, according to multiple news reports. A group calling itself the Shadow Brokers released a series of files on Saturday that contained the code behind some powerful hacking tools developed by an NSA-linked group. Those tools have been used to carry out cyberattacks on other governments and private corporations across the world over the last 20 years, according to Forbes.

The Shadow Brokers released a series of files that included installation files and descriptions of networks used for a number of different hacking tools that they claimed to have stolen from the Equation Group—the name security researchers gave to a group of hackers who deployed cyberweapons on behalf of the United States and other Western governments. This group was unmasked in early 2015 by Kapersky Labs, a Russian security research firm. The Equation Group is believed to have been affiliated with the NSA and other Western intelligence agencies, according to security researchers, and is perhaps the most wide-ranging and successful hacking group ever publicly discussed…

Then, in Gizmodo, “Yeah, The NSA Was Probably Hacked”:

Hacking group “The Shadow Brokers” made headlines Monday when it leaked files that supposedly belonged to “Equation Group,” which has widely been speculated to be an NSA hacking offshoot. When researchers from Kaspersky analyzed Equation Group, they found codenames also found in documents leaked by Snowden. The Shadow Brokers only released some of the files, which computer security experts have deemed as legitimate, and are asking for millions of dollars in bitcoins to release the rest. The files supposedly contain the frameworks for multiple NSA hacking tools.

According to Snowden, some NSA spies may have gotten lazy, and left their hacking tools on the malware staging server…

(Because the wetware is always the most unpredictable risk factor in any security project.)

And now, the NYTimes makes it ‘official’…

Most outside experts who examined the posts, by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, said they contained what appeared to be genuine samples of the code — though somewhat outdated — used in the production of the N.S.A.’s custom-built malware.
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Stay away from Cleveland

Folks, I know how tempting it is to go to the snakes’ den and tell them what you think to their face. I have done it. It’s cathartic. It feels great. Please don’t.

From a tactical perspective the convention does not need our help to be be a complete dumpster fire. Half the people in that convention hall hate the other half with the heat of a hundred suns, while a huge faction of delegates are openly scheming to unseat the nominee, i.e., destroy the party in order to save it. We should give them space to express all these feelings at each other. A common enemy outside would just give them a reason to rally together. Trump wants chaos. He feeds on it. The crazier things get outside the more Republicans will support him. Someone else once gained (siezed) power the exact same way.

Second and more important, Cleveland will be a security nightmare. Cleveland cops are a long way from role models on a good day. Next week the Cleveland PD will be overwhelmed, scared and dressed like an invading army. They will have divisions of staties and National Guard who will almost certainly follow their lead, open carry lunatics dressed like commandos will wander around giving them heartburn, and they will have an especially short fuse for anything that might be connected with Black Lives Matter. I recognize that is not fair. They have the badges and that is the mood right now, at least among departments with a history of racial problems. Does that sound like Cleveland to you? Best case scenario, expect aggressive crowd control and ‘free speech zones’ a good mile from the convention. I would not be surprised to see kettling, violent arrests for little or no reason and a whole lot of mace. It would not surprise me to see LRADs and possibly even microwave-based active denial systems deployed. I know the last one sounds crazy, but microwave torture (“crowd control”) beams have developed to the point where police departments could theoretically deploy them, if the DoD completely lost its mind. Given the circumstances I would not 100% write it off.

Finally, I know you know this already, but Trump’s hard core are fucking nuts. They are armed, racist, angry and they don’t believe in non-violence. Ohio’s laws let people open carry any guns they want right up to whatever line the Secret Service draws on the pavement. You legally have to retreat before using deadly force in Ohio, but don’t count on Florida Man knowing that. The RSVP list already includes those neo-Nazis who had the rally in Sacramento with all the stabbings. Inside the convention horrible people will be whipping up hate and fear like a soufflé cook on a meth bender.

I understand that dissent is the beating heart of a free society, and I would never tell anyone that they can’t go and speak their mind at jerks who richly deserve it. All I am suggesting is, for this occasion anyway, maybe live tweet it instead.

Late Night Open Thread: Early Reviews of Comey’s Performance

For entertainment purposes only. Much more below the fold…

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Edward Snowden, American Hero

I missed this last week, but this is great news:

In a major vindication for Edward Snowden — and a blow for the national security policy pursued by Republicans and Democrats alike — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Thursday that the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program is unlawful. This is the most serious blow to date for the legacy of the USA Patriot Act and the surveillance overreach that followed 9/11.

The central question depended on the meaning of the word “relevant”: Was the government’s collection relevant to an investigation when it collects all the metadata for any phone call made to or from anywhere in the U.S.?

The court said no. That was the right decision — not so much because it protects privacy, as because it broke the bad precedent of secret law created by the NSA and endorsed by the secret national security court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The first striking thing about the court’s opinion was how openly it relied on Snowden’s revelations of classified material. The court described how the program was known — by Snowden’s leaks. It also analyzed the NSA order to Verizon, leaked by Snowden, that proved the existence of the program and revealed indirectly the legal reasoning that the government relied on to authorize the metadata collection.

The Second Circuit seemed supremely untroubled by the origin of the information in a violation of classification laws. At one point, it noted that the government disputed the claim that virtually all metadata are being collected — then dismissed the government’s suggestion as unconvincing in the light of the evidence. Today, it would seem, the Snowden revelations are treated as judicially knowable facts, at least in this court.

Then there’s the legal reasoning, which was equally striking. To get to the conclusion of unlawfulness, the Second Circuit initially had to find that anyone who has had metadata collected — that is, anyone in the U.S. — has the right to sue and challenge the statute.

The government said no one could challenge the NSA program except the telephone companies, like Verizon, who received the order. Its logic was particularly Orwellian. The Department of Justice argued that the Patriot Act demanded secrecy in reviewing challenges to the surveillance program. The secrecy, in turn, implied that the statute meant to preclude anyone from challenging the program under the non-secret provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, the catch-all statute for challenging unlawful government programs.

The Second Circuit wisely rejected what it called this “argument from secrecy.” It reversed a lower district court that had refused to allow the suit to proceed, and set the stage for an analysis of relevance under the statute.

Those who attack Snowden miss the fact that had he not done what he had done, the courts wouldn’t even have the capability to know what the government was doing in order to judge the legality. That’s the catch-22 that is terrifying. They secretly do whatever the fuck they want, and then no one is even allowed to determine whether what they are doing is proper.

The Intercept is releasing a great deal more of the Snowden archive. You should check it out.

*** Update ***

Apparently wrong way Cole can’t read bylines. This was from last YEAR, not last week. No idea how I stumbled across it in my browsing yesterday. So yes, I’m an idiot.

Apple vs. the Feds

I know y’all will have strong opinions on this! Via the NYT:

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple said on Wednesday that it would oppose and challenge a federal court order to help the F.B.I. unlock an iPhone used by one of the two attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., in December.

On Tuesday, in a significant victory for the government, Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym of the Federal District Court for the District of Central California ordered Apple to bypass security functions on an iPhone 5c used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who was killed by the police along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, after they attacked Mr. Farook’s co-workers at a holiday gathering.

Judge Pym ordered Apple to build special software that would essentially act as a skeleton key capable of unlocking the phone.


The F.B.I. said that its experts had been unable to access data on Mr. Farook’s iPhone, and that only Apple could bypass its security features. F.B.I. experts have said they risk losing the data permanently after 10 failed attempts to enter the password because of the phone’s security features.


[Apple CEO] Cook said the order would amount to creating a “back door” to bypass Apple’s strong encryption standards — “something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create.”

Apple says creating software that would unlock Farook’s phone would compromise every iPhone’s security. Plus they make the point that other governments (e.g., China) could order them to bypass security as well, and then where would it end.

I don’t know enough about encryption, etc., to know whether or not that’s bullshit. But Apple’s objection seems reasonable to me. What say you?

The Gray Zone Attacked in Jakarta – Updated for Clarity (4:15 PM)


The Islamic State attack in Jakarta earlier today is part of the same campaign as the Paris attack last November. While the Jakarta attack was no where near as successful in terms of casualties, including those killed, the objectives of the attack was the same as of last November’s in Paris. Islamic State has two objectives for their attacks – both related. The first is to attack the Gray Zone; the social and civil space** that Muslims live in. It is an attempt to force Muslims, whether in the US or Britain or France or Indonesia or Jordan or anywhere else, to chose sides. To define themselves not only as Muslims, but as Muslim in such a way that sets them apart from their fellow citizens. It is both a figurative and literal attempt to collapse the public realm/sphere into the private one. The Islamic State hopes that by doing so they can then achieve their objectives of recruiting Muslims to relocate to the Caliphate – the only place where actual Islam is being practiced or to stay in place and use their local knowledge to attack targets that further weaken the Gray Zone. So the first objective is to set the conditions for recruiting by attacking the Gray Zone.

The second of the Islamic State’s objective with the Jakarta attack, just as it was with the Paris attack last November, is to get the US, its allies and its partners to provide the ways and means that the Islamic State does not have to achieve IS’s ends. This is terrorism as Psychological Operations (PSYOPS). While Indonesia still has its socio-political problems, they’ve come a long way from the Suharto and Sukarno regimes. This is summed up in what has become the Indonesian national motto: bhinneka tunggal ika, which means unity in diversity. The attacks earlier today are intended to shatter, if not reverse, Indonesia’s attempts to achieve unity in diversity. IS hopes that the Indonesian response, a crackdown on Muslim Indonesians, will destroy the Gray Zone, providing the Islamic State with new recruits and a justification for further attacks, which will then lead to greater crackdowns, as well as the imposition of security protocols that erode the Indonesian political, social, and economic reforms of the past eighteen years. Moreover, they hope that attacks in Indonesia will lead other states and societies to react out of fear and panic, eroding their Gray Zones and putting a truth to the lie that ideals of liberty and freedom and diversity are just a facade. The Islamic State cannot achieve these ends themselves. They are hoping we will be so scared as to do it for them.


The Islamic State’s goal with these attacks, in terms of trying to destroy the Gray Zone in Indonesia, which is a Muslim majority country, is for Indonesia t0 crack down on those Indonesian Muslims that it identifies as supporting the Islamic State. As I’ve written about in past posts, the Islamic State’s doctrine/theology is that real Islam is rooted in Abd al-Wahhab’s radical understanding of tawheed*** (the unity of the Deity) combined with Abd al-Wahhab’s calls to eliminate innovation, apostasy, and unbelief. Since the Islamic State asserts that Muslims that adhere to Islamic State’s doctrine/theology are the true Muslims, Muslims that crack down on Islamic State or Islamic State supporters can and will be labeled apostates. This allows IS to renew and/or reinforce their call that the Muslims involved in running Indonesia or supporting the governments efforts are unbelievers or apostates. Such assertions contribute to the attempted destruction of the Gray Zone by allowing the Islamic State to reinforce their central tenet of radical tawheed. This provides the justification for future attacks against the unbelievers and/or apostates, including what they’ll claim are innovative Indonesian Muslim practices. The intent is to drive both recruitment and crackdown, then use that for more attacks to drive more recruitment and crackdown.

* Image taken from here. It was originally part of an IS publication.

** The Gray Zone is not just the social and civil public space in which Muslims live. Everyone lives in it when not in private. We can see it under attack by Ammon Bundy and his followers in Harney County, Oregon among white, Christian Americans just as it is under attack in Paris and Jakarta and other places by the Islamic State.

*** All Muslims accept tawheed, but not all Muslims accept the radical understanding of tawheed as taught by Abd al-Wahhab.

Balloon Juice Survival Bunker Standoff Watch: Day 1 (Updated at 12:45 AM)

I know Anne Laurie is working up a new post from checking the dashboard, but since we’ve got two aging posts and breaking news, this’ll do for both an open thread and a discussion of ongoing events until she finishes and hits publish.

Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, another unnamed Bundy brother, Ryan Payne, and a number of other militia folks have now occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters buildings. The Bundys have stated that they are prepared to stay there for years and that they are prepared to use violence if any attempt is made to remove them. So we now have breaking and entering into a Federal facility, criminal trespass, and terroristic threats. (h/t Paul W and Kelly in comments).

Here’s the link to Oregon Live’s update. They’ve just updated at 9:15 PM local time with the following statement from the local sheriff:

Statement from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: ‘After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.'”

Here’s the link to what the Feds had to say about what the Hammonds were actually accused, tried, and convicted of.

Here’s John Ritzheimer’s Youtube video (h/t LGF commenter Backwoods Sleuth):