Edward Snowden Explains Why he Supports Ad-Blockers

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower-turned-press freedom advocate exiled in Russia after leaking NSA documents that demonstrated the terrifying scope of its mass surveillance program, has publicly endorsed ad-blocking software and has encouraged every internet user to employ it.

Speaking to The Intercept’s Micah Lee, Snowden, responding to the question “Do you think people should use adblock software?”, said, “We’ve seen internet providers like Comcast, AT&T, or whoever it is, insert their own ads into your plaintext http connections. … As long as service providers are serving ads with active content that require the use of Javascript to display, that have some kind of active content like Flash embedded in it, anything that can be a vector for attack in your web browser — you should be actively trying to block these.”

“Because if the service provider is not working to protect the sanctity of the relationship between reader and publisher,” he added. “you have not just a right but a duty to take every effort to protect yourself in response.”

While there are ethical arguments against the use of ad-blockers – mainly that users of ad-blocking software are depriving site owners of revenue – it makes sense, purely from a security perspective, for Snowden to recommend ad-blocking for all: anything that could potentially provide a backdoor into your computer is a threat, much like the recent worrying revelation that advertisers are tracking users over multiple devices via inaudible sounds.

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

European Parliament Votes to Protect Edward Snowden

After the mess the European Union made of its net neutrality laws, it’s heartening to see them doing something positive. Earlier today (29th October), the European Parliament voted in favour of protecting NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden from prosecution and extradition to the US, as well as dropping any charges against him within EU member states. The resolution was voted in by 285 votes to 281, and grants protection to Snowden as a “human rights defender”.

Rumours of the vote hit Twitter shortly before the official announcement, with Snowden himself commenting:

After the European Parliament released the news via its website, Snowden appeared shocked and delighted:

The European Parliament declared:

“Too little has been done to safeguard citizens’ fundamental rights following revelations of electronic mass surveillance, say MEPs in a resolution voted on Thursday. They urge the EU Commission to ensure that all data transfers to the US are subject to an “effective level of protection” and ask EU member states to grant protection to Edward Snowden, as a “human rights defender”. Parliament also raises concerns about surveillance laws in several EU countries.”

How this affects Snowden’s asylum in Russia is yet to be determined. It would be interesting to know how the European Parliament would vote for a similar resolution in regards to Julian Assange, currently exiled in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy.

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

The Intercept Leaks Huge Cache of Documents on the USA Drone Strike Program

Leaks of classified information have been part of the fabric of social interactions and also modern-day communications that includes the Internet, from hacked celeb pics to the now infamous Edward Snowdon cache of documents that detailed the extensive surveillance states and operations around the world. This leak is no different, yet if genuine, (I have to put this caveat in just in case someone is lying here and it comes back to bite me firmly on the posterior), is a huge trove of secret documents which have been published by The Intercept, detailing the Obama administration’s secretive and controversial drone-based assassination program.

If you’re not familiar with this program then let me elaborate, The US military and figures including the Obama administration have implemented a program that sort to track and kill high-value enemy targets throughout Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Now onto the documents which have been classed as being leaked by an anonymous whistleblower, this information covers an extensive array of subjects which includes kill chains, operations and also the standard intelligence flaws.

Skimming through this information reveals some extremely sensitive documents, for example “One top-secret document shows how the terror watchlist appears in the terminals of personnel conducting drone operations, linking unique codes associated with cellphone SIM cards and handsets to specific individuals in order to geolocate them”.

Another document reveals a case of a British citizen, Bilal el-Berjawi, who was stripped of his citizenship before being killed in a U.S drone strike in 2012. “British and American intelligence had Berjawi under surveillance for several years as he travelled back and forth between the U.K. and East Africa yet did not capture him. Instead, the U.S. hunted him down” and eventually used a drone strike to kill him in Somalia.

The “Kill Chain” sounds like a title to a film, yet this purported leak is very compelling, interesting, informative and also fascinating. It details the steps required to authorize a drone strike on a target in Yemen and the people who it passes through. It also shows that according to a Pentagon study, president Obama signed off on a 60 day authorizations to kill suspected terrorists, but he did not sign off on individual strikes.

According to the documents, there are two steps. Step 1 is choosing the target and step 2 is taking a strike. Step 1 starts from a JSOC task force before going through officials including Leon Panetta who is the Secretary of Defence, a principals committee which includes Hillary Clinton all the way to President Obama. Step 2, in the case of strikes in Yemen, ranges from a JSOC task force all the way to the president of Yemen.

Well yes, this is indeed big, am I surprised? No, the US is addicted to the Find Fix Finish mantra which has made drone strikes popular for the administration. The cache is extensive and it is far too much information to detail here, otherwise this article would be 5000 words long, and few want that.

It will be fascinating to see further developments in the coming days, weeks and also months.

Thank you theintercept for providing us with this information.

Edward Snowden Twitter Notifications Resulted in 47GB of E-mails

NSA whistleblower and US exile Edward Snowden recently joined Twitter – his first act as a new member was to establish himself as the greatest troll of the 21st Century – and within three days he has already accrued a whopping 1.26 million followers, and a very warm welcome from the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson, WikiLeaks, and Anonymous. His first message – “Can you hear me now?” – was, at the time of writing, retweeted 119,761 times and favourited 114,661 times.

Impressive work, and Snowden was sure to have been basking in his instant Twitter popularity… had he not neglected to stop e-mail notifications.

For every follow, favourite, and retweet, Snowden received an e-mail – and the guy even accepts direct messages from everyone, so imagine how many people have tried to contact him privately –  likely close to 2 million’s worth, filling up his inbox to the tune of 47GB.

Snowden, a former CIA employee and National Security Agency contractor has been exiled to Russia since 2013, when he leaked classified information revealing the scope of the NSA’s mass surveillance program. He is now director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organisation which aims to protect the rights of journalists.

Whistleblower Who Posted Sensitive Materials to 4Chan Not Taken Seriously

A former employee of Australia’s Department of Defense, who held fellow countryman Julian Assange up as an idol, posted sensitive materials he stole from the workplace to 4chan, where no one took him seriously (and called him “newf*g”, presumably). 21-year-old Michael Scerba uploaded documents related to the Five Eyes spying program – which is an initiative that combines the surveillance powers of the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK), CSEC (Canada), ASD (Australia), and GCSB (New Zealand) and has existed since the end of the Second World War – to 4chan in October 2012. The post had only 14 replies, described by Scerba as “a bunch of ‘fake and gay’ remarks”. Classy guy, sounds like he would have fit in well there.

At the time, Scerba said of his leak, “I release(sic) what I feel should be in the media: bombings, civilian deaths, actions of the ‘terrorists’ that just aren’t reported in the media.” As his 4chan post didn’t hit in quite the way Scerba has hoped, it was unlucky for him that one of the few people to see it was an employee of Australia’s intelligence service, who then alerted authorities.

Scerba’s materials were genuine, though, and the now 25-year-old is facing a Supreme Court trial in Australia for accessing and leaking confidential information. Since the trial will feature confidential information as evidence, making at least some of the process private, with documents related to the case to be destroyed 28 days after the end of the hearing, which has stirred civil rights activists into quite the frenzy.

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Proclaims Edward Snowden “a Hero”

Steve Wozniak, who co-founder Apple with Steve Jobs, has celebrated NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, calling him a “total hero” who “gave up his own life […] to help the rest of us.” In an interview with ITP.net, Wozniak celebrated Snowden and his work – not for the first time – praising him for following “his own heart”.

In the interview, when asked if he considered Snowden to be a hero or villain, Wozniak replied:

“Total hero to me; total hero. Not necessarily [for] what he exposed, but the fact that he internally came from his own heart, his own belief in the United States Constitution, what democracy and freedom was about. And now a federal judge has said that NSA data collection was unconstitutional.”

Woz then applauded Snowden for his sacrifices:

“So he’s a hero to me, because he gave up his own life to do it. And he was a young person, to give up his life. But he did it for reasons of trying to help the rest of us and not just mess up a company he didn’t like.”

He later spoke about the perils of maintaining privacy when using computers, considering the limited operating systems available and the security holes these large systems create:

“It’s almost impossible [to protect yourself] because today’s operating systems generally get so huge that they can only come from a few sources, like Microsoft, Google and Apple, and those operating systems have so many millions of lines of code in them, built by tens of thousands of engineers over time, that it’s so difficult to go back and detect anything in it that’s spying on you. It’s like having a house with 50,000 doors and windows and you have no idea where there might be a tiny little camera.”

Thank you Fortune and ITP.net for providing us with this information.

WikiLeaks Starts Accepting Secret Documents Again

Nearly five years after closing its of its secret drop portal, WikiLeaks is again accepting secret document submissions. The organisation’s old platform was closed in 2010 after an internal dispute over security, resulting in staff deleting its encryption keys for fear of compromising the identities of its sources.

Though journalists and media outlets have been using Secure Drop and GlobaLeaks for secret disclosures in the meantime, WikiLeaks maintains that it does not consider the two platforms secure enough for its needs. Instead, it has launched its own proprietary platform, running through Tor. The system, opened to the public today, was thoroughly tested in the months leading up to release, though is still in beta.

In a blog post on the WikiLeaks website, founder Julian Assange, still in exile in London’s Ecuadorian embassy, said:

“Other submission technologies inspired by WikiLeaks, such as the European-based GlobaLeaks and the US-based Secure Drop, while both excellent in many ways, are not suited to WikiLeaks’ sourcing in its national security and large archive publishing specialities. The full-spectrum attack surface of WikiLeaks’ submission system is significantly lower than other systems and is optimised for our secure deployment and development environment. Our encrypted chat system is integrated into this process because sources often need custom solutions.

For example, one of the problems with public-facing submission systems is bootstrapping. The fact that a source is looking at instructions that are telling them how to submit material could be used as evidence against them if there is an SSL key break. To prevent this, we deploy the full bootstrap instructions and keys on millions of WikiLeaks pages across our full server network. When the “Submit” button is pressed, there is literally zero network traffic as a result, because all these details are downloaded everytime anyone looks at nearly any page on WikiLeaks. We cover the source bootstrap process with our millions of page views by readers.”

Thank you The Next Web for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of WikiLeaks.

Hack Puts Edward Snowden in the White House

It seems that Edward Snowden may have finally usurped President Obama and taken his place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. A cheeky ‘hacker’ has added the business Edwards Snow Den – purportedly a snowboarding shop – to the grounds of the White House on Google Maps.

Edward Snowden has become notorious since leaking confidential NSA documents, gained through his defense contract employer, that revealed mass surveillance of citizens at home and abroad on a criminal scale, back in 2013. Since leaking the documents, Snowden has been in hiding in Russia – a country he was forced to reside in when his passport was cancelled en route to Cuba – ever since on political asylum for fear of prosecution.

The amusing gag was achieved by getting Edwards Snow Den listed as a verified business and then, once given the thumbs-up by Google, the business changed its address to place it within the White House. Although Edwards Snow Den has had its verified business status revoked by Google, its Google+ page is still active, but Google seem to be actively trying to remove the prank.

Marketing Land, who first spotted the anomaly, had confirmation from Google that the listing had been taken down, but it still appears on a Google Maps search. How long it will remain, however, is unknown, so if you want to see it live, head over there now.

Thank you The Verge for providing us with this information.

Donating to Snowden Now Illegal in the US; Guilty Parties Can Have Assets Seized

The White House has issued an emergency executive order that effectively prevents US citizens from donating money to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden for fear of having their assets seized. The order is designed to choke funds for “malicious cyber-enabled activities” launched by persons outside of the United States.

Though the executive order – issued under the declaration of “a national emergency” by President Barack Obama – doesn’t mention Snowden by name, he is the highest profile figure affected by the ruling. Snowden, after revealing the extent of the indiscriminate mass surveillance undertaken by US intelligence and security services, was forced into exile in Russia, where he currently resides.

Section 2 of the order effectively states that by donating to parties considered to be involved in “malicious cyber-related activates” would impair the President’s ability to deal with this “national emergency”. It reads:

Sec. 2. I hereby determine that the making of donations of the type of articles specified in section 203(b)(2) of IEEPA (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(2)) by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to section 1 of this order would seriously impair my ability to deal with the national emergency declared in this order, and I hereby prohibit such donations as provided by section 1 of this order.

Sec. 3. The prohibitions in section 1 of this order include but are not limited to:

(a) the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order; and

(b) the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.

While section 7 warns anyone that does make such donations is at risk of having their assets seized by the US government:

Sec. 7. For those persons whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order who might have a constitutional presence in the United States, I find that because of the ability to transfer funds or other assets instantaneously, prior notice to such persons of measures to be taken pursuant to this order would render those measures ineffectual. I therefore determine that for these measures to be effective in addressing the national emergency declared in this order, there need be no prior notice of a listing or determination made pursuant to section 1 of this order.

The order is so vaguely worded and free of due process as to be open to abuse. If a US citizen gives money to someone that, in the opinion of the US Government, is considered guilty of “malicious cyber-enabled activities”, it can take that person’s possessions, with no prior warning and with no recourse, bypassing the judicial system entirely. Ironic, since it is this kind of abuse of power that Snowden felt he had to stand against.

Source: The White House

SecureDrop Is The DropBox For Whistleblowers, Based On Swartz’s DeadDrop

The Freedom of the Press Foundation has taken over the late Aaron Swartz’s DeadDrop project. DeadDrop has been renamed to SecureDrop by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and they’ve also worked to simplify the usability of the service. The goal of SecureDrop is still the same – get news organisations to utilise the service to provide their sources with a secure way of leaking documents, communicating anonymously or “blowing the whistle”.

To encourage news organisations to use SecureDrop the Freedom of the Press Foundation is managing and updating the SecureDrop service itself (which is totally open source) and it will also help news organisations set it up and train their journalists on how to use it.

SecureDrop is based on the anonymity software Tor and it uses a hidden server to allow users to submit things anonymously. Journalists then access these submissions on a secure encrypted server and can exchange messages with the original source without ever knowing who that person is.

“Essentially, it’s a more secure alternative to the ‘contact us’ form found on a typical news site” states the FAQ for the service.

The final part of the update over DeadDrop is that the whole interface and usability aspect has been addressed. DeadDrop was criticised for its complexity and the level of technical knowledge required to use it. For this reason SecureDrop is much simpler to use and in combination with the training offered by the Freedom of the Press Foundation it should have a relatively smooth implementation.

Half a dozen major news organisations have already expressed interest in the service.

More details here.

Image courtesy of SecureDrop