Cover your webcams, says FBI chief

Taping over or otherwise covering up your computer’s web camera is a “sensible” thing that everyone should do, according to FBI Director James Comey. US spy agencies have had the ability to hack into webcams for years, according to whistleblowers.

*
Giving a keynote address at a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the National Security Division at the US Department of Justice, Comey sat down with Assistant Attorney General John Carlin and discussed things such as webcam security and Twitter. The event was hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, DC think tank.

“Do you still have a piece of tape over your cameras at home?” Carlin asked.

“Heck yeah, oh, heck yeah,” Comey replied.

“It’s not crazy that the FBI director cares about personal security as well, and so I think people ought to take responsibility for their own safety and security,” Comey continued. “There are some sensible things you ought to be doing, and that’s one of them.”

The practice is apparently widespread at US government offices, according to the FBI chief.

“You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen. They all have a little lid that closes down on them. You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing,” Comey explained.

While the FBI director admitted he was “mocked” after bringing up the tape trick in April this year – in part because he was involved in a heated dispute with Apple over access to the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone at the time – it appears many have taken his advice to heart. A photo of Facebook tycoon Mark Zuckerberg earlier this year showed his office laptop with a piece of tape covering the webcam.

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-3-04-30-pm

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that the government had tools to access not just computer webcams, but also the cameras in iPhones and BlackBerries.

Sidestepping Apple dispute, Obama makes case for access to device data

20131115_081056000_iOS

BY JEFF MASON

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday made a passionate case for mobile devices to be built in such a way as to allow government to gain access to personal data if needed to prevent a terrorist attack or enforce tax laws.

Speaking at the South by Southwest festival in Texas, Obama said he could not comment on the legal case in which the FBI is trying to force Apple Inc. to allow access to an iPhone linked to San Bernardino, California, shooter Rizwan Farook.

But he made clear that, despite his commitment to Americans’ privacy and civil liberties, a balance was needed to allow some intrusion when needed.

“The question we now have to ask is: If technologically it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there is no key, there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer, how do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot?” he said.

“What mechanisms do we have available to even do simple things like tax enforcement because if in fact you can’t crack that at all, government can’t get in, then everybody is walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket.”

The Justice Department has sought to frame the Apple case as one not about undermining encryption. A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation court order issued to Apple targets a non-encryption barrier on one iPhone.

The FBI says Farook and his wife were inspired by Islamist militants when they shot and killed 14 people on Dec. 2 at a holiday party in California. The couple later died in a shootout with police.

“Setting aside the specific case between the FBI and Apple, … we’re going to have to make some decisions about how do we balance these respective risks,” Obama said.

“My conclusion so far is you cannot take an absolutist view.”

Obama was speaking at the South by Southwest festival in Austin about how government and technology companies can work together to solve problems including making it easier for people to vote.

FBI BOSS BECOMES ‘POLITICAL PROBLEM’

Capture

By Cory Bennett and Julian Hattem – 03/09/16 06:00 AM EST

The aggressive posture of the FBI under Director James Comey is becoming a political problem for the White House.

The FBI’s demand that Apple help unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino killers has outraged Silicon Valley, a significant source of political support for President Obama and Democrats.
Comey, meanwhile, has stirred tensions by linking rising violent crime rates to the Black Lives Matter movement’s focus on police violence and by warning about “gaps” in the screening process for Syrian refugees.

Then there’s the biggest issue of all: the FBI’s investigation into the private email server used by Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of State and the leading contender to win the Democratic presidential nomination.

A decision by the FBI to charge Clinton or her top aides for mishandling classified information would be a shock to the political system.

In these cases and more, Comey — a Republican who donated in 2012 to Mitt Romney — has proved he is “not attached to the strings of the White House,” said Ron Hosko, the former head of the FBI’s criminal investigative division and a critic of Obama’s law enforcement strategies.

Publicly, administration officials have not betrayed any worry about the Clinton probe. They have also downplayed any differences of opinion on Apple.

But former officials say the FBI’s moves are clearly ruffling feathers within the administration.

With regards to the Apple standoff, “It’s just not clear [Comey] is speaking for the administration,” said Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism and cybersecurity chief. “We know there have been administration meetings on this for months. The proposal that Comey had made on encryption was rejected by the administration.”

Comey has a reputation for speaking truth to power, dating back to a dramatic confrontation in 2004 when he rushed to a hospital to stop the Bush White House from renewing a warrantless wiretapping program while Attorney General John Ashcroft was gravely ill. Comey was Ashcroft’s deputy at the time.

That showdown won Comey plaudits from both sides of the aisle and made him an attractive pick to lead the FBI. But now that he’s in charge of the agency, the president might be getting more than he bargained for.

“Part of his role is to not necessarily be in lock step with the White House,” said Mitch Silber, a former intelligence official with the New York City Police Department and current senior managing director at FTI Consulting.

“He takes very seriously the fact that he works for the executive branch,” added Leo Taddeo, a former agent in the FBI’s cyber division. “But he also understands the importance of maintaining his independence as a law enforcement agency that needs to give not just the appearance of independence but the reality of it.”

The split over Clinton’s email server is the most politically charged issue facing the FBI, with nothing less than the race for the White House potentially at stake.

Obama has publicly defended Clinton, saying that while she “made a mistake” with her email setup, it was “not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.”

But the FBI director has bristled at that statement, saying the president would not have any knowledge of the investigation. Comey, meanwhile, told lawmakers last week that he is “very close, personally,” to the probe.

Obama’s comments reflected a pattern, several former agents said, of the president making improper comments about FBI investigations. In 2012, he made similarly dismissive comments about a pending inquiry into then-CIA Director David Petraeus, who later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for giving classified information to his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

“It serves no one in the United States for the president to comment on ongoing investigations,” Taddeo said. “I just don’t see a purpose.”

Hosko suggested that a showdown over potential criminal charges for Clinton could lead to a reprise of the famous 2004 hospital scene, when Comey threatened to resign.

“He has that mantle,” Hosko said. “I think now there’s this expectation — I hope it’s a fair one — that he’ll do it again if he has to.”

Comey’s independent streak has also been on display in the Apple fight, when his bureau decided to seek a court order demanding that the tech giant create new software to bypass security tools on an iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the two terrorist attackers in San Bernardino, Calif.

Many observers questioned whether the FBI was making an end-run around the White House, which had previously dismissed a series of proposals that would force companies to decrypt data upon government request.

“I think there’s actually some people that don’t think with one mindset on this issue within the administration,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s top Democrat, at a Tuesday hearing. “It’s a tough issue.”

While the White House has repeatedly backed the FBI’s decision, it has not fully endorsed the potential policy ramifications, leaving some to think a gap might develop as similar cases pop up. The White House is poised to soon issue its own policy paper on the subject of data encryption.

“The position taken by the FBI is at odds with the concerns expressed by individuals [in the White House] who were looking into the encryption issue,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

This week, White House homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco tried to downplay the differences between the two sides. The White House and FBI are both grappling with the same problems, she said in a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“There is a recognition across the administration that the virtues of strong encryption are without a doubt,” Monaco said on Monday. “There is also uniformity about the recognition that strong encryption poses real challenges.”

But former officials see Comey as wanting to blaze his own trail on the topic.

“I have been very surprised at how public and inflammatory, frankly, the FBI and the Justice Department’s approach has been on this,” said Chris Finan, a former National Security Council cybersecurity adviser.

“That doesn’t tend to be the administration’s preferred approach to handling things.”

‘That’s horse sh*t!’: FBI can already unlock iPhone without Apple’s help – Snowden

Capture

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said that the FBI’s claim to need Apple to unlock the iPhone a San Bernardino shooter is a sham.
*

The FBI says that only Apple has the ability to crack the work phone left behind by the San Bernardino terrorists, and last month convinced a federal judge to compel the tech giant to write a custom operating system with intentionally weakened security mechanisms. Apple is refusing to do so, and said that it is willing to take the fight to the Supreme Court.

Capture

Over a video link appearance at Blueprint for a Great Democracy conference on Tuesday, Snowden took Apple’s side.

“The FBI says Apple has the ‘exclusive technical means’ to unlock the phone,” Snowden told the audience from Moscow. “Respectfully, that’s horse sh*t.”

Snowden later tweeted a link to an American Civil Liberties Union blog post titled “One of the FBI’s Major Claims in the iPhone Case Is Fraudulent,” which argues that the government doesn’t actually need Apple’s help to bypass the “auto-erase” feature on the iPhone in question.

Capture

This sentiment echoes that of many tech experts, as well as some lawmakers.

At a hearing last week, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who made his fortune in electronic car alarms, asked FBI Director James Comey if he considered the possibility of creating enough copies of the phone’s data to try hundreds of passwords. Apple likely wouldn’t have objected to this simple method, and the FBI couldn’t answer why they didn’t consider it.

Comey also acknowledged that the FBI made the mistake of changing the iCloud password on Farook’s account, security researcher Jonathan Zdziarski wrote in a blog post.

“In other words, the mistake of trying to break into the safe caused the safe to lock down in a way that made it more difficult to get evidence out of it,” Zdziarski said.

Snowden has previously applauded Apple for its defense of privacy and strong encryption, even before their current battle with the FBI.

“We should support vendors who are willing to [say], ‘You know, just because it’s popular to collect everybody’s information and resell it to advertisers and whatever, it’s going to serve our reputation, it’s going to serve our relationship with our customers, and it’s going to serve society better. If instead we just align ourselves with our customers and what they really want, if we can outcompete people on the value of our products without needing to subsidize that by information that we’ve basically stolen from our customers’,” he told TechCrunch in June, months before the December massacre in San Bernardino. “That’s absolutely something that should be supported.”

Apple execs say San Bernardino iPhone password changed while in government custody

The iPhone of the San Bernarndino shooter that US officials are pressuring Apple to unlock had its password changed within 24 hours of the government custody, company bosses claim insisting this prevents them from getting backup information.
*

Exactly who or how the Apple ID password was changed is unconfirmed, but in court filings, the US Department of Justice alleged that the San Bernardino Health Department, “in an attempt to gain access to some information in the hours after the attack, was able to reset the password remotely, but that had the effect of eliminating the possibility of an auto-backup.”

Capture

However, Apple executives only learned about the change after proposing four solutions for recovering the encrypted data, all without having to compromise security for millions of customers with a so-called “backdoor” that authorities are pressuring the company to make.

One idea involved connecting the iPhone to a known Wi-Fi network in order to prompt an iCloud backup, but Apple engineers failed in their attempts to do so, and that’s when they realized the password change.

Also on Friday, Apple recommended Congress resolve the escalating legal fight over a federal judge’s order compelling the company to assist the FBI in breaking through the encryption of the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorist mass shooters. Apple insists that would require creating a whole new operating system that would also serve as a key to unlock all encrypted protection on iPhones sold worldwide.

Capture

Earlier this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook severely criticized the court order, writing in an open letter that the demand“has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

The iPhone, property of San Bernardino County, was used as a work phone by health department employee Syed Farook, who along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, carried out a mass shooting on December 2, 2015, killing 14 and wounding 22 in San Bernardino, California. The couple was killed in a shootout with police.

*(Are you McSurprised?)* The consequences of the $15 minimum wage: McDonald’s to add 2000 self-service kiosks in 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 11.02.55 AM

BY JOHN BRODGIAN

Mind you, this was the plan in the end of 2014. I can only imagine that the 2,000 locations with self serve kiosks will double by the end of this year…

The self-service stations, which McDonald’s has billed as “Create Your Taste,” enable customers to choose from a selection of buns, toppings and sauces on tablet-like touchscreens, USA Today reports.

McDonald’s franchisee Bob Nibeel said the program would appeal to increasingly choosy and tech savvy millennials.

“Most millenials would rather deal with a computer, iPad, iPhone than actually have interactions with another human being,” Nibeel said in a video interview with USA Today.

The irony here is that it’s those same millenials pushing for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. Maybe this is why?

FBI director lashes out at Apple, Google for encrypting smartphones

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 12.27.54 PM
The companies responsible for powering nearly 95 percent of the smart phones in the United States say they’re embracing encryption for the sake of their customers’ privacy, and that’s concerning to the head of the FBI.

On Thursday this week, FBI Director James Comey attacked recent reports regarding both Apple and Google’s efforts to provide customers of their respective operating systems with the ability to secure data with encryption unlike anything previously available for mainstream mobile devices: Apple claims that even its own Palo Alto, California engineers can’t crack into locked phones running the iOS 8 platform released this month, and Google says its new Android devices will offer data encryption by default.

Speaking to reporters during a briefing in Washington on Thursday, Comey outright complained about the companies’ announcements and insisted that their efforts will severely hinder law enforcement operations.

“There will come a day — well it comes every day in this business — when it will matter a great, great deal to the lives of people of all kinds that we be able to with judicial authorization gain access to a kidnapper’s or a terrorist or a criminal’s device,” the Huffington Post quoted Comey as saying. “I just want to make sure we have a good conversation in this country before that day comes.”

“I’d hate to have people look at me and say, ‘Well how come you can’t save this kid,’ ‘how come you can’t do this thing,’” he added.

Unfortunately for the Obama-appointed head of the FBI, however, that day may have already come and gone, at least with respect to Apple. Upon release of the company’s latest operating system last week, Apple said in a statement that “personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode,” adding, “Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data.”

“So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8,” Apple said.

Reuters / Adrees Latif Reuters / Adrees Latif

On Sept. 18, Google announced they’d be adopting now security-minded practices as well. “For over three years Android has offered encryption, and keys are not stored off of the device, so they cannot be shared with law enforcement,” spokeswoman Niki Christoff said to the Post. “As part of our next Android release, encryption will be enabled by default out of the box, so you won’t even have to think about turning it on.”

According to a recent study conducted by digital pollsters comScore, Android and Apple control a 52.1 percent and 41.9 percent share of the market, respectively, with regards to operating systems in the US as of May 2014.

Big names from within the FBI and Justice Department at large have previously spoken out about the federal government’s desire to eavesdrop on conversations conducted in the digital realm, be it on websites or with text messages sent between cell phones, but Comey’s latest remarks may be the most direct yet to come from an individual as high up in the executive branch.

“I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smart phone,” HuffPo quoted Comey. “The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened — even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order — to me does not make any sense.”

“Google is marketing their Android the same way: Buy our phone and law-enforcement, even with legal process, can never get access to it,” he said.

Reuters / Beck DiefenbachReuters / Beck Diefenbach

According to the Washington Post, Comey told reporter that he said he could not understand why companies would “market something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law” — a quip that quickly attracted criticism.

“Um, what ‘law’ is that?” Hanni Fakhoury, a former federal public defender who currently works as a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tweeted on Thursday.

“It’s disappointing that the FBI has chosen to focus on examples where encryption might potentially slow hypothetical investigations, while ignoring the fact that strong, reliable encryption is the only way we have to prevent a wide range of very real and very serious crimes,” Matt Blaze, a computer security researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Associated Press. “We rely on smartphones to manage and protect more and more aspects of our business, personal and financial lives.”

Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union’s chief technologist, Christopher Soghoian, wrote on Twitter on Thursday that “it wasn’t so long ago that top FBI officials were advising people to encrypt data to protect it from hackers,” along with a link to remarks made by then-FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry about “some of the most critical threats facing our nation” in 2011.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 12.30.02 PM
“Managing the consequences of a cyberattack entails minimizing the harm that results when an adversary does break into a system,” Henry said at the time. “An example would be encrypting data so the hacker can’t read it, or having redundant systems that can readily be reconstituted in the event of an attack.”

In the three years since those remarks were first made, however, the revelations concerning the US National Security Agency’s widespread surveillance programs has prompted an increasing amount of people worldwide to adopt standards intended to protect themselves against eavesdroppers, be they government agents or otherwise. Leaked NSA documents have shown that government agencies have adopted spy practices that may range from tapping into data sent to Google’s massive server warehouses to breaking into iPhones with a 100 percent success rate, the likes of which have been attributed with the marketing of ultra-secure mobile devices as well as a surge in the number of people turning to online anonymity solutions, such as the Tor browser.

As Georgetown University law professor Orin Kerr told the Washington Post, however, the FBI wants to be able to pry into the phones and ergo the lives of Americans — but first with an individualized order, and not a blanket issue like the kind that lets the NSA sweep up phones records of millions of Americans on a regular basis.

“The outrage is directed at warrantless mass surveillance, and this is a very different context. It’s searching a device with a warrant,” Kerr told the paper.

Earlier this year in July, the US Supreme Court ruled that police, in most circumstances, must get a search warrant before they can scoop up data from cellphones. Los Angeles Police Department Detective Brian Collins told the Washington Post this week that he does forensic analysis on about 30 smartphones a month for the LAPD’s anti-gang and narcotics investigations and fears being unable to further aid law enforcement if Apple, Google and other tech companies increasingly turn towards encryption.

“I’ve been an investigator for almost 27 years,” Collins said, “It’s concerning that we’re beginning to go backwards with this technology.”

“Apple will become the phone of choice for the pedophile,” John J. Escalante, the chief of detectives for Chicago’s police department, added to the paper. “The average pedophile at this point is probably thinking, I’ve got to get an Apple phone.”