‘Weaponizing Vulnerabilities': New Snowden Doc Reveals Spy Agencies Targeted Smartphones

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Find new ways to exploit smartphone technology for spying operations

by RINF | May 21, 2015

The ‘Five Eyes’ alliance exploited weaknesses in popular browser and planned to hijack links to app stores to implant spyware on mobile phones, new documents show

(Common Dreams) – The intelligence alliance known as Five Eyes—comprising the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia—exploited security weaknesses in one of the world’s most popular browsers to obtain data about users and planned to use links to Google and Samsung app stores to infect smartphones with spyware, a top secret National Security Agency (NSA) document published Wednesday has revealed.

According to the 2012 document, leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published jointly by CBC News and The Intercept, the NSA and its international counterparts took part in a series of workshops between November 2011 and February 2012 to find new ways to exploit smartphone technology for spying operations.

The Intercept reports:

As part of a pilot project codenamed IRRITANT HORN, the agencies were developing a method to hack and hijack phone users’ connections to app stores so that they would be able to send malicious “implants” to targeted devices. The implants could then be used to collect data from the phones without their users noticing.

CBC continues:

The Five Eyes alliance targeted servers where smartphones get directed whenever users download or update an app from Google and Samsung stores.

…Ultimately, the spy agencies wanted to implant spyware on certain smartphones to take control of a person’s device or extract data from it, the document suggests.

The spy agencies also sought to match their targets’ smartphone devices to their online activities, using databases of emails, chats and browsing histories kept in the Five Eyes’ powerful XKeyScore tool to help build profiles on the people they were tracking.

The project emerged in part due to concerns about the possibility of “another Arab spring,” referring to the 2011 wave of revolutionary actions in Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa where several autocratic, Western-backed leaders were ousted.

“Respecting agreements not to spy on each others’ citizens, the spying partners focused their attention on servers in non-Five Eyes countries, the document suggests,” write CBC‘s Amber Hildebrandt and Dave Seglins. “The agencies targeted mobile app servers in France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Cuba, Morocco, the Bahamas and Russia.”

The spy agencies also began targeting UC Browser—a popular app in India and China with growing usage in North America—in late 2011 after learning that it had leaked information about its half-billion users.

According to the reporting, the operation was launched by a joint surveillance unit called the Network Tradecraft Advancement Team, which includes spies from each of the Five Eyes nations.

The document frames the plan as a move for national security, with the agencies seeking to collect data or spy indefinitely on mobile phones of “suspected terrorists.” But they did so without alerting the public or the phone companies of the browser’s weaknesses, which “potentially put millions of users in danger of their data being accessed by other governments’ agencies, hackers or criminals,” Hildebrandt and Seglins write.

“Of course, the security agencies don’t [disclose the information],” Ron Deibert, executive director of digital rights group Citizen Lab, which identified security gaps in UC Browser and alerted the company to those issues in April, told CBC. “Instead, they harbor the vulnerability. They essentially weaponize it.”

EMP Survival & The First 15 Things You Must Do Immediately After An EMP

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.13.25 PMBY SURVIVAL MOM

I’ve been working on a book about EMP survival for the past couple of months. It hasn’t been an easy task, since much of what I’m researching involves scenarios that have never happened, or have happened only in third world countries. It’s been challenging to apply those scenarios to the world in which I’ve grown up.

In a weird way, this research has been fun. I feel a bit like Dr. David Livingstone venturing into parts of Africa that had never been imagined, much less explored.

Will my lovely next door neighbors really turn into cannibals, given enough time and lack of food?

Will the gangs and violent predators in the big city nearest me really begin going door to door, as a sort of perverse version of the Jehovah Witnesses, robbing, raping, and killing or will they end up killing each other first?

If well-prepared preppers have the perfect bug out location, equipped with every survival supply possible, how will they get there if the electromagnetic pulse has destroyed the electronic-based engines in their vehicles?

The approach I took to preparedness and survival in my first book, Survival Mom: How to Prepare Your Family For Everyday Disasters and Worst-Case Scenarios, was all about common sense. My goal was to equip the average mom with information, checklists, and strategies for surviving the typical natural disaster, medical emergency, or job loss.

My second book is different. So far, it contains a lot of doom and gloom just because of the nature of a post-EMP world. However, it’s made me think twice about the predictions found in most EMP survival novels. I believe that desperate times encourage and, in fact, create just the type of environment that breeds innovation. In a post-EMP world, many communities may never need, or want, to go back to old systems once new and better ones have been devised.

Human beings are damn smart when they need to be.

EMP Survival for moderate preppers

That’s where, you, the moderate prepper can play an important role. Take practical steps now to prepare for everyday emergencies but also keep in mind that worst case scenarios are entirely possible.

Each month, you can add new skills and knowledge, which is why there is a Survival Mom Skill of the Month!
You can save money toward buying the gear and supplies that are truly necessary. (Have you joined my 52 Weeks Savings Club on Facebook?)
Prepare your body with exercise, training, and healthy eating so we are physically ready for difficult tasks, regardless of the crisis. (If you need a support group, join my Skinny Survival Moms group on Facebook!)
I don’t believe that only Green Berets, Navy SEALS, and the most vicious, lawless predators will be the ones to survive. In fact, moderate preppers already have many advantages over these groups. We recognize warning signs that have led us to take proactive steps to prepare. We’ve incorporated both the mindset and lifestyle of preparedness into our daily lives and, by doing so, blend in with every other household around us.

The “Gray Man“? Yeah, that’s us.

Survivors of a worst case scenario will need to think on their feet, quickly adapt and improvise, and be willing to connect with others to form communities. Moderate preppers who continue to refine their skills and supplies, connect with like-minded people, and stay up to date with the world around them are excellent candidates for EMP survival.

Here’s an EMP Survival tool I have for you

I wish I could say that my EMP survival handbook was ready to put in your hands today, but it’s not. I’m finishing the book now and then it will require editing and more.

However, here’s what I can give you now, via email: A special report that provides details for, “The First 15 Things You Must Do Immediately After an EMP.” As a mom, and knowing the fears that moms have for their kids, I’ve included information for when and how to retrieve your kids from school. I’ve listed items that should be in everyone’s Get Home Bag, tips for informing neighbors about what has happened and why this is a vital thing to do, and specific places to shop for last minute supplies, even if you’re already well-stocked.

Along with this Special Report, I’ve prepared follow up emails that will answer some of your most difficult questions:

Should I immediately evacuate my home following an EMP?
I don’t have a survival group or community. Can I survive on my own?
What if I have a newborn? What can I do to make sure he/she survives in a post-EMP world?
What can I do if I’m stranded hundreds of miles from home?
Along with these follow-ups that you’ll receive every 3-4 weeks, I’ll let you know when my book is ready for pre-order and how you can get a signed copy.

If you already get my weekly emails and occasional exclusive articles, this Special Report is sitting in your email box! Otherwise, sign up here:

There’s peace in being prepared and EMP Survival is possible!

FBI visits NJ high school, warns students about ISIS recruitment threat

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The FBI has paid a visit to a New Jersey high school, warning students about the online recruitment tactics of ISIS. The agency told the teens not to believe the terror group’s propaganda, as it is trawling the internet to recruit vulnerable young people.

The Tuesday event, held at Bergen Arts and Science Charter School in Hackensack, NJ, was led by a senior FBI intelligence analyst who did not want to be named for security reasons.

During the talk, he told students that Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) was using social media and glossy magazines to train terrorists and make its mission seem appealing.

One of the tactics mentioned was a sophisticated recruitment video, aimed at luring young people into joining the terror group.

Read more
ISIS ‘travel guide’ compares self-proclaimed caliphate to holiday resort
The footage features a Canadian man who says that anyone can play a role in ISIS’s mission, failing to mention the atrocities inflicted by the terror group. That same man later died while fighting for the group in Syria.

The event, part of the FBI’s outreach campaign to warn about the terror threat, seemed to have accomplished its intended goal on some of the students.

Brayan Liz, a senior, said the talk was useful because “100 percent of students are on social media,” NorthJersey.com reported.

Another senior, Robert Harris, told CBS New York that he is “more interested than scared,” adding that he “wants to know how to find terrorists; how to stop them from doing things.”

“It definitely was eye-opening,” said high school senior Zoey Zibor. “You know, you learn that it’s in your own backyard. It’s Americans citizens wanting to join these terrorist groups.”

Read more
​Senior ISIS recruiting figure reportedly a female Seattle teacher
The FBI analyst stressed that the talk was about ISIS as a terror group, not a religious one. Still, some students expressed frustration about the event.

“I did kind of feel offended because they’re putting a bad reputation on Islam in general. That has nothing to do with Islam,” said junior Safiye Taspinar.

That sentiment was shared by Glenn Katon, legal director for the civil liberties group Muslim Advocates.

He tweeted that Muslims account for only about 6 percent of extremist violence in the US, but the FBI focuses all of its anti-extremism measures on Muslims.

“The FBI keeps peddling ‘radicalization’ rubbish,” he wrote.

The presentation was requested by the school’s security director, Leo McGuire, “to educate and inform students so they don’t get dragged into the recruitment tools that some of the terrorist organizations are using.”

He added that students have a “part to play in count-terrorism operations.”

The FBI plans to take its message to other schools in the tri-state area.

More than 150 Americans – some of them teenagers – have traveled abroad to join ISIS, according to the FBI. The agency’s intelligence analyst said that all of the bureau’s 56 field offices have had cases of people being recruited to join the terror group.

US releases trove of documents seized in Bin Laden 2011 raid

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The United States has published a trove of documents that intelligence officials say were taken by Navy SEALs during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

On Wednesday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced that it had released a list of English-language material recovered during the infamous raid, as well as the contents of more than 100 personal documents asserted to have belonged to the Al-Qaeda leader, including letters to family members and allies.

The release contains 103 now declassified personal documents, the names of 75 publicly available US government reports discovered at Bin Laden’s home and lists that include the names of digital e-books, computer manuals, religious documents and think tank studies that the intelligence community say was inside the compound on May 1, 2011 when SEALs raided it and killed the Al-Qaeda leader.

Among the books that intelligence officials say belonged to Bin Laden are “Obama’s Wars,” Pulitzer Prize-winner Bob Woodward’s account of the current administration’s roles in overseas conflicts, and two works by American academic Noam Chomsky.

Jeff Anchukaitis, a spokesman for the DNI, explained to AFP that the release constitutes “a sizeable tranche of documents recovered during the raid” and was in keeping with President Barack Obama’s call for “increased transparency.”

“The Intelligence Community will be reviewing hundreds more documents in the near future for possible declassification and release,” the director’s office said in its statement Wednesday. “An interagency taskforce under the auspices of the White House and with the agreement of the DNI is reviewing all documents which supported disseminated intelligence cables, as well as other relevant material found around the compound.”