The Risks Digest

The RISKS Digest

Forum on Risks to the Public in Computers and Related Systems

ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy, Peter G. Neumann, moderator

Volume 27 Issue 58

Friday 1 November 2013

Rebecca Mercuri
Mother Jones: How Could Be Hacked
Dana Liebelson via David Bolduc security assessment not complete before rollout
CNN via Jeremy Epstein
Single Point of Failure impacts ACA Exchanges
Bob Gezelter
Critical embedded software bugs responsible in Toyota unintended acceleration case
Prashanth Mundkur
Toyota's killer firmware: Bad design and its consequences
Tod Hagan
Toyota unintended acceleration case
Martyn Thomas
Diebold Charged With Bribery, Falsifying Docs, 'Worldwide Pattern of Criminal Conduct'
Shannon McElyea
Re: Diebold Charged With Bribery, Falsifying Docs, 'Worldwide Pattern of Criminal Conduct'
Jonathan S. Shapiro
Carmel Tunnels in Israel shut by a cyberattack—or was it?
Jeremy Epstein
ACM TechNews <technews@HQ.ACM.ORG>
Self-Driving Cars Could Save More Than 21,700 Lives, $450B a Year
Lucas Mearian
Warily, Schools Watch Students on the Internet
Somini Sengupta via Dewayne Hendricks
EFF: "Lavabit encryption key ruling threatens Internet privacy
Jeremy Kirk via Gene Wirchenko
Hey Germany, remember this story?—2008: German Authorities Raiding Homes To Find Skype Tapping Whistleblower
Lauren Weinstein
NSA surveillance: Merkel's phone may have been monitored 'for over 10 years'
*The Guardian* via David J. Farber
Russia 'spied on G20 leaders with USB sticks'
Henry Baker
2009: Britain under attack from 20 foreign spy agencies including France and Germany
Lauren Weinstein
IBM: Analyzing fake content on Twitter during real world events: Boston Marathon bombing
Lauren Weinstein
"There's more than one way to uncover state secrets"
Robert X. Cringely via Gene Wirchenko
"LinkedIn's Intro tool for iPhones could be a juicy target for attackers"
Zach Miners via Gene Wirchenko
" compromised and used to attack visitors"
Lucian Constantin via Gene Wirchenko
The risk of trusting Internet security software makers to maintain safe websites
Michael Weiner
Metric System and Math
George Jansen
"Biology's Brave New World" by Laurie Garrett in "Foreign Affairs"
Prashanth Mundkur
Info on RISKS (comp.risks)

Rebecca Mercuri <>
Thu, 31 Oct 2013 12:00:34 -0400
There's been a curious lack of discussion here in RISKS about the ongoing
problems with the website, so I wanted to pitch some thoughts
into the mix.  [Yes, except for RISKS-27.55, and other items in this issue.
I've been waiting for articles such as yours and Dana Liebelson's—which
follows, as well as more detailed analyses of the development problems.  PGN]

As soon as the problems started, it seemed to me like a DDoS attack.  Plenty
of motive—anyone who wants to get rid of Obamacare and make the President
look inept. Plenty of participants—Tea Party members, Republicans,
disgruntled Democrats, Al Qaeda, Anonymous. Plenty of opportunity --
detailed instructions and software for conducting an LOIC attack are easily
found online. [DISCLAIMER: I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should
do or did this, just saying that some probably could have tried.]

The superb timing of the "problems with the Verizon hub" concurrent with the
30 Oct 2013 Congressional hearing seem also to point to DDoS. Why isn't the
media investigating this possibility? Actually, they briefly did. The New
York Times reported on day 2 that unnamed "computer security specialists say
they had ruled out a cyberattack known as a denial of service." The one
specialist they did name, Matthew Prince, founder of Cloudflare, suggested
"you can solve these problems by throwing more money at them." Apparently
$180M wasn't enough cash.

On 24 Oct 2013, John McAfee opined that is "basically doing a
denial of service attack on itself." His analysis claims that "The way they
divided the processing tasks, the user's computer is used for over 50
programs. So, the transfer of data between the person logging on and the
main servers is basically killing the system." An analysis in Reuters by
independent website design expert Matthew Hancock claimed that hitting
"apply" on "causes 92 separate files, plug-ins and other
mammoth swarms of data to stream between the user's computer and the servers
powering the government website."  Mammoth swarms of data in order to send a
form? Huh? [Or should we consider this to also include the information that
the special NSA JavaScripts are also collecting from your hard drive while
your application is being processed?]

There are a few reporters who don't totally have their heads in the sand,
but some of those were glad fools for the government PR. Will Oremus
predicted DoS problems in his 30 Sep 2013 (pre-launch) Slate article,
calling it "a hacker's dream" potentially containing "loosely guarded
sensitive information" vulnerable to data leaks. Still, even he backpedaled,
quoting the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services fact sheet attesting
to the security of the data hub. (Download this page before it disappears:

But wait a second—wasn't it one of the supposedly secure and well-tested
hubs that was down on 30 Oct?  And aren't there also problems with
information leaks? According to Sean Gallagher, reporting on 30 Oct for ars
technica, sends data to analytics providers such as Google's
DoubleClick and Pingdom. Why? For $180M, the contractor couldn't set up a
local XML query that determines an individual's location (from the finite
list of US states and counties) and matches it with the available local
health plans? They needed to use a Google mash-up for this?

So is it a cyberattack or massive ineptitude or a government boondoggle?
You decide. Probably we'll never know. In the meanwhile, I have to obtain a
new health insurance policy, because I'm one of the millions who received a
termination notice that our President promised wouldn't be sent out.

Mother Jones: How Could Be Hacked (Dana Liebelson)

David Bolduc <>
October 25, 2013 at 8:52:08 PM EDT
  [via David Farber's IP]

Dana Liebelson, *Mother Jones*, 24 Oct 2013
Security experts say the federal health insurance website is vulnerable to a
common technique that hackers use to steal personal information.

With plagued by technical difficulties, the Obama
administration is bringing in heavyweight coders and private companies like
Verizon to fix the federal health exchange, pronto. But web security experts
say the Obamacare tech team should add another pressing cyber issue to its
to-do list: eliminating a security flaw that could make sensitive user
information, including Social Security numbers, vulnerable to hackers.

According to several online security experts,, the portal
where consumers in 35 states are being directed to obtain affordable health
coverage, has a coding problem that could allow hackers to deploy a
technique called "clickjacking," where invisible links are planted on a
legitimate web page. Using this scheme, hackers could trick users into
giving up personal data as they enter it into the web site, potentially
placing Americans at risk of identity theft or allowing fraudsters to file
bogus health care claims. And it's not just the federal exchange that has
security problems. Some of the 15 states that have established their own
online exchanges aren't using standard encryption throughout their Obamacare
websites—leaving user information at risk.

Here's the problem: When an American signs up for Obamacare online, they
must enter a good deal of personal information to verify identity --
including name, Social Security number, phone number, email address, income,
and employer—and identifying information for their family members. In the
majority of states, Americans will enter this information directly into the

Kyle Wilhoit, a threat researcher at Trend Micro, a Japanese security
software company, studied the portal with his security team
and found a "moderate risk" for hacking due to an easy-to-fix coding problem
that leaves the site vulnerable to clickjacking. Nidhi Shah, who works on
research and development for Hewlett-Packard's Web Security Research Group,
found the same problem. This wouldn't be the first time a federal site
experienced coding problems: Earlier this year,, a government
contracting award management site, automatically revealed companies' private
data, without a hacker lifting a finger, because of bad coding.

"Common clickjacking would be a popular method to attempt to exploit [the
site]" says Wilhoit. "Hackers could use this information in the creation of
fake identities, fake credit cards, and fake accounts very easily." He adds
that it's relatively easy to fix, although the fixed code would need to
rolled out on multiple pages and potentially state websites
as well.

Asked about clickjacking concerns, the Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) referred Mother Jones to this security statement, which says
that Americans don't need to worry: "If a security incident occurs, an
Incident Response capability would be activated, which allows for the
tracking, investigation, and reporting of incidents."

Other parts of Obamacare's tech infrastructure are less vulnerable to
attack. Although is at risk for clickjacking, sensitive
information submitted through the website is not permanently stored in any
centralized database (contrary to Republican fears), making it harder for
hackers to steal Americans' data in bulk. Instead, user information is
routed through a secure "data hub" to various federal agencies, including
the Social Security Administration, where it can be double-checked and
verified. Then private insurance companies are directly notified that a
consumer has signed up and selected a health care plan.

Experts say that the federal data hub that routes information to federal
agencies is fairly secure. "A successful attack against would
likely be a very well organized and financed attack and be spectacular
because it would be so hard and thus so unlikely," says Christopher Budd,
threat communications manager for Trend Micro. Chris Rasmussen, policy
analyst for the Center for Democracy and Technology, agrees that the hub is
"encrypted and secure."

Some state Obamacare sites could be significantly more vulnerable than the
federal portal. site uses a common form of encryption called
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), which prevents information from being
intercepted by a hacker after you click "send" (SSL doesn't defend against
most clickjacking). But the 15 states currently running their own
independent Obamacare websites do not have explicit instructions from the
HHS to use SSL. According to HHS, these states and the District of Columbia,
which also has its own Obamacare site, are independently responsible for
ensuring that they "develop standards to protect the privacy and security of
consumers' personal information."

"These state sites...represent more viable targets for direct attack" than
the federal data hub, Budd argues. And hackers have been known to target
state healthcare programs—last year, over 280,000 Social Security numbers
were stolen from Utah's Medicaid server.

Hawaii, for example, does not automatically use SSL across its entire
website, potentially leaving user information vulnerable to hackers --
particularly if a visitor to the site is using an open wireless network,
such as one at a coffee shop. The same is true with the online health
exchanges created by Minnesota and Colorado. Budd notes that attacking state
sites "rather than the more fortress-like data warehouse [like the data hub]
can be easier to pull off with a greater chance of success."

Many security experts argue that's code would quickly improve
if it was open source—posted publicly for other programmers to examine,
adapt, and improve. In fact, the code for the site was originally supposed
to be open source. But HHS removed its code from open-source websites after
developers complained they had trouble distinguishing which code belonged to
which part of the website. Since then, all of's coding
mistakes have happened behind closed doors security assessment not complete before rollout

Jeremy Epstein <>
Thu, 31 Oct 2013 08:43:45 -0400
CNN is reporting that the security assessment was incomplete when the site
was rolled out.  Since security is generally the last thing done before
fielding, this shouldn't be surprising.  What's surprising is that so far,
only one security vulnerability has become public—given that the whole
development project seems to have been poorly coordinated (i.e., without a
strong system architecture or system integrator), I expect that there are a
lot of security problems whether the different pieces connect together.

Single Point of Failure impacts ACA Exchanges

"Bob Gezelter" <>
Mon, 28 Oct 2013 01:27:19 -0700
One of the hazards to modern systems is complacency. High Mean Time Between
Failure systems fail rarely, thus there is an increasing tendency to
discover insufficient planning for failure (several years ago, AOL had a
multi-hour outage caused by a "router update", a fact that I noted in a past
edition of the "Computer Security Handbook").  Networked (and cloud) systems
are particularly vulnerable to this type of problem with communications
infrastructure.  The ACA exchanges (HEALTHCARE.GOV and the free-standing
state exchanges) all rely on the IRS to validate taxpayer information.
Apparently, this data hub may not have been provisioned with sufficient
redundancy to survive an equipment failure.  According to the Money article:
"... Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human
Services, said a vendor networking issue at Verizon subsidiary Terremark was
to blame. Peters said the vendor had 'experienced a failure in a networking
component," and the attempted fix crashed the system. ..."  The moral of the
story remains: Trust but verify.  Outsourcing connectivity is not the
problem, but ensuring availability in the face of failure requires full
verification. All too often, there are shared points of failure which may
not be obvious (even two telecommunications vendors may in the end be using
the same strand of fiber).  The original article is at:

Bob Gezelter,

Critical embedded software bugs responsible in Toyota unintended acceleration case

Prashanth Mundkur <>
Sat, 26 Oct 2013 10:04:48 -0700
Toyota has reached a settlement in the first case in the US that found
the company liable in the case of sudden unintended acceleration.

  "The ruling was significant because it was the first case where plaintiffs
  argued that a car's electronics—in this case the software connected to
  the Camry's electronic throttle-control system—caused the unintended
  acceleration. The Japanese automaker recalled millions of cars, starting
  in 2009, following claims of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. It
  has denied that electronics played any role in the problem."

There is a similar ongoing federal case in California, and apparently 80
similar cases in state courts.

  "The fact that it was a jury in Oklahoma—which is generally considered
  a very conservative, not plaintiff-friendly state—that doesn't bode
  very well for Toyota," Marketos said.  [...]  A federal judge in Orange
  County, California, is dealing with wrongful death and economic loss
  lawsuits that have been consolidated.

  Similar to the Oklahoma County case, federal lawsuits contend that
  Toyota's electronic throttle-control system was defective and caused
  vehicles to surge suddenly. Toyota has denied the allegation, and neither
  the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor NASA found evidence
  of electronic problems.

  Wylie Aitken, an Orange County plaintiff's attorney who is a liaison with
  the cases filed in state court against Toyota, said he thinks the Oklahoma
  case "could be a game-changer to get the compensation the plaintiffs are
  entitled to."

A more detailed technical analysis in an EE Times article (no single-page
link available) summarizes the results of the analysis of Toyota's source
code by the Barr Group, an embedded systems consulting company, and other
experts.  Their testimony was crucial in the outcome of the case, and they
were able to come to stronger conclusions than the NHTSA and NASA could last

  "Barr said that the 2005 Camry L4 source code and in-vehicle tests by the
  experts confirmed that some critical variables are not protected from
  corruption, and sources of memory corruption are present. He believes that
  Toyota's engineers sought to protect numerous variables against software-
  and hardware-cause corruptions, but they failed to mirror several key
  critical variables, and they made no hardware protection available against
  bit flips.

  Stack overflow and software bugs led to memory corruption, he said. And it
  turns out that the crux of the issue was these memory corruptions, which
  acted "like ricocheting bullets." [...]

  When asked if the whole case for unintended acceleration could be pinned
  on the task X death, Barr replied, "The task X death in combination with
  other task deaths." There are 24 tasks and 16 million different ways those
  tasks can die. The experts group was able to demonstrate at least one way
  for the software to cause unintended acceleration, but there are so many
  other ways that could have happened.

  Barr also said more than half the 24 tasks' deaths studied by the experts
  in their experiments "were not detected by any fail safe."

  After the Oklahoma trial, what steps should the NHTSA be taking?
  Barr made some suggestions:

     NHTSA needs to get Toyota to make its existing cars safe and also needs
     to step up on software regulation and oversight. For example, FAA and
     FDA both have guidelines for safety-critical software design (e.g.,
     DO-178) within the systems they oversee. NHTSA has nothing. Also, NHTSA
     recently mandated the presence and certain features of black boxes in
     all US cars, but that rule does not go far enough. We observed that
     Toyota's black box can malfunction during unintended acceleration
     specifically, and this will cause the black box to falsely report no
     braking. NHTSA's rules need to address this, e.g., by being more
     specific about where and how the black box gets its data, so that it
     does not have a common failure point with the engine computer.

For those interested, the NHTSA/NASA report on Toyota is at:

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will see any report from the Barr
Group, due to confidentiality agreements they signed with Toyota.  There is
some followup by the EE Times here:

P.S.: Another excellent analysis of the topic is "Toyota's killer firmware:
Bad design and its consequences", by Michael Dunn:

Toyota's killer firmware: Bad design and its consequences

Tod Hagan <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 23:51:04 -0400
EDN has an article about Toyota's electronic throttle control system
software and unintended acceleration:

Toyota's killer firmware: Bad design and its consequences

There's also an interesting companion discussion on Hacker News:

Toyota unintended acceleration case

Martyn Thomas <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 15:49:21 +0000
Some details of the software, from the plaintiff's expert witness.

Diebold Charged With Bribery, Falsifying Docs, 'Worldwide Pattern of Criminal Conduct'

Shannon McElyea <>
Fri, 25 Oct 2013 15:16:33 -0700
  [Via Dave Farber's IP]

The subject sounded promising, but the outcome is not so. Hats off to the
sophistic "Citizens United"—they will not be penalized as real, flesh
citizens, because they are a corporation.

Despite at least $1.75 million in bribes said to have been paid the company
around the globe, nobody will go to jail for what U.S. Attorney Steven
Dettelbach describes as their "worldwide pattern of criminal conduct,"
because they are a corporation --- and you are not.

The $50 million the company has agreed to pay is a mere fraction of the
firm's $3billion in annual revenues. That, even though Diebold is a repeat
offender --- which may be describing it mildly...

In 2010 the company settled an SEC fraud suit for $25 million. They also
admitted in 2008 that they had overstated 2007 election division revenue by
some 300% in hopes of manipulating stock prices.

Brad Friedman, The Brad Blog, 25 Oct 2013

One of the world's largest ATM manufacturers and, formerly, one of the
largest manufacturers of electronic voting systems, has been indicted by
federal prosecutors for bribery and falsification of documents.  The charges
represent only the latest in a long series of criminal and/or unethical
misconduct by Diebold, Inc. and their executives over the past decade.
According to Cleveland's Plain Dealer, a U.S. Attorney says the latest
charges are in response to "a worldwide pattern of criminal conduct" by the
company....  Federal prosecutors Tuesday filed charges against Diebold Inc.,
accusing the North Canton-based ATM and business machine manufacturer of
bribing government officials and falsifying documents in China, Indonesia
and Russia to obtain and retain contracts to provide ATMs to banks in those

The two-count criminal information and deferred prosecution agreement calls
for Diebold to pay nearly $50 million in penalties: $23 million to the
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and $25 million to the Department
of Justice.

The agreement with federal prosecutors also calls for the implementation of
rigorous internal controls that includes a compliance monitor for at least
18 months. The government agreed to defer criminal prosecution for three
years, and drop the charges if Diebold abides by the terms of the agreement.

Despite at least $1.75 million in bribes said to have been paid the company
around the globe, nobody will go to jail for what U.S. Attorney Steven
Dettelbach describes as their "worldwide pattern of criminal conduct,"
because they are a corporation --- and you are not.

The $50 million the company has agreed to pay is a mere fraction of the
firm's $3billion in annual revenues. That, even though Diebold is a repeat
offender --- which may be describing it mildly...

In 2010 the company settled an SEC fraud suit for $25 million. They also
admitted in 2008 that they had overstated 2007 election division revenue by
some 300% in hopes of manipulating stock prices.

As earlier as 2004, thanks to documents leaked by a whistleblower, it was
discovered that Diebold had illegally used uncertified certified hardware
and software in California election systems and planned to lie about it to
state investigators. The e-voting systems, repeatedly found over the years
to be easily hacked, were decertified for use by the state at the time
(though they are still used widely around much of the country today.)

Still, nobody went to prison for any of Diebold's crimes.

Their most notorious infamy was tied to their often bumbling work as the
nation's second largest e-voting company, which produced wildly insecure and
often inaccurate voting systems and tabulators and which they proved willing
to lie about. The Ohio-based firm first attracted the notice, and ire, of
Democrats in 2003 when its then CEO, Walden O'Dell, penned a fundraising
letter on behalf of George W. Bush and the Republican Party, promising that
he was "committed top helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the
president next year."  ...

Re: Diebold Charged With Bribery, Falsifying Docs, 'Worldwide Pattern of Criminal Conduct'

"Jonathan S. Shapiro" <>
October 25, 2013 at 10:27:53 PM EDT
  [via Dave Farber's IP]
Two reactions to the Diebold bribery item:

1. We've known the *cost* of bribery. Thanks to the SEC, now we know the
   *price* of bribery.

2. The SEC is apparently selling bribery well below cost. Does that qualify
   as "dumping?"

Carmel Tunnels in Israel shut by a cyberattack—or was it?

Jeremy Epstein <>
Mon, 28 Oct 2013 13:49:12 -0400
Associated Press reports that the Carmel Tunnels through Haifa (in northern
Israel) were shut for 8 hours last month due to a cyberattack that disabled
the security camera systems.
(And others)

The authority that runs the tunnels says it was just an ordinary malfunction.

Who's correct?  The risk is that perhaps it doesn't matter!

Self-Driving Cars Could Save More Than 21,700 Lives, $450B a Year (Lucas Mearian)

ACM TechNews <technews@HQ.ACM.ORG>
Fri, 25 Oct 2013 11:31:55 -0400
 [Lucas Mearian in   Computerworld, 24 Oct 2013, via ACM TechNews

Autonomous vehicles could save many lives and an enormous amount of money
through accident avoidance and congestion reduction, among other techniques,
according to a new study from the nonprofit Eno Center for Transportation.
The report estimated that up to 4.2 million accidents could be prevented,
saving 21,700 lives and $450 billion in related costs annually, if 90
percent of the vehicles on U.S. roads were self-driving.  Collisions could
be avoided if the computer-controlled autos could sense and anticipate road
conditions and surrounding objects, the study determined.  Meanwhile,
freeway and artery congestion could be cut by more than 75 percent through
vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication by autonomous
cars and trucks.  The study's authors note that high numbers of autonomous
vehicles must be present for such outcomes to be achieved.  "For example, if
10 percent of all vehicles on a given freeway segment are [autonomous],
there will likely be an [autonomous vehicle] in every lane at regular
spacing during congested times, which could smooth traffic for all
travelers," they point out.  However, various issues must first be addressed
with self-driving vehicles, including the extent to which functionality
would be automated, whether onboard computers could be made hack-proof, and
who would be liable in the event of an accident in an autonomous car.

Warily, Schools Watch Students on the Internet (Somini Sengupta)

<*Dewayne Hendricks*>
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
[Via Dave Farber's IP]

Somini Sengupta, *The New York Times*, 28 Oct 2013

For years, a school principal's job was to make sure students were not
creating a ruckus in the hallways or smoking in the bathroom. Vigilance
ended at the schoolhouse gates.  Now, as students complain, taunt and
sometimes cry out for help on social media, educators have more
opportunities to monitor students around the clock. And some schools are
turning to technology to help them. Several companies offer services to
filter and glean what students do on school networks; a few now offer
automated tools to comb through off-campus postings for signs of danger. For
school officials, this raises new questions about whether they should—or
legally can discipline children for their online outbursts.

The problem has taken on new urgency with the case of a 12-year-old Florida
girl who committed suicide after classmates relentlessly bullied her online
and offline.  [PGN-truncated for RISKS.  See the full article.]

EFF: "Lavabit encryption key ruling threatens Internet privacy Jeremy Kirk)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 09:49:14 -0700
Jeremy Kirk, InfoWorld, 25 Oct 2013
Asking for private SSL keys could hurt the US economy and cause
service providers to move to other legal jurisdictions

Hey Germany, remember this story?—2008: German Authorities Raiding Homes To Find Skype Tapping Whistleblower

Lauren Weinstein <>
Mon, 28 Oct 2013 17:08:02 -0700  (Techdirt via NNSquad)

  "Apparently a whistleblower recently leaked some evidence that German
  authorities were using a special trojan horse software to tap Skype audio
  conversations. The document detailing this was leaked to the German Pirate
  Party, one of many international "Pirate Parties" that have been formed in
  recent years to push for more reasonable government policies on a variety
  of fronts from intellectual property to privacy and government
  surveillance. Illegally tapping Skype conversations may be illegal, but it
  seems that German authorities are a lot more interested in tracking down
  who leaked the documents and have raided the homes of various German
  Pirate Party members, confiscating computer equipment. Of course, if
  anything, this would seem to confirm that the government was at least
  experimenting with, if not actively using, such a trojan horse wiretapping
  program—and the raids have only served to generate much more attention
  over that."

False indignation is almost as "amusing" as hypocrisy, eh?

NSA surveillance: Merkel's phone may have been monitored 'for over 10 years'

"David J. Farber" <>
Sat, 26 Oct 2013 18:46:32 -0400

The phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, might have been monitored
for more than 10 years, according to a report in Der Spiegel.  It said that
her mobile telephone number had been listed by the NSA's Special Collection
Service (SCS) since 2002—marked as "GE Chancellor Merkel"—and was
still on the list weeks before President Barack Obama visited Berlin in

In an SCS document cited by the magazine, the agency said it had a "not
legally registered spying branch" in the US embassy in Berlin, the exposure
of which would lead to "grave damage for the relations of the United States
to another government".

From there, NSA and CIA staff were tapping communication in the Berlin's
government district with high-tech surveillance.

Quoting a secret document from 2010, Der Spiegel said such branches existed
in about 80 locations around the world, including Paris, Madrid, Rome,
Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt.

Merkel's spokesman and the White House declined comment on the report.

German secret service officials are to travel to the US next week to seek
explanations from the White House and the National Security Agency following
allegations that the American intelligence agency has been tapping the
mobile phone of the chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The German government's deputy spokesman, Georg Streiter, said: "We are
talking to the Americans to clear things up as quickly as possible.  A
high-level delegation will travel for talks with the White House and
National Security Agency to push forward the investigation into the recent

The delegation will include senior officials from the German secret service,
according to German media reports.

Germany and Brazil are spearheading efforts at the United Nations to protect
the privacy of electronic communications. Diplomats from the two countries,
which have both been targeted by the NSA, are leading efforts by a coalition
of nations to draft a UN general assembly resolution calling for the right
to privacy on the Internet. ...

Russia 'spied on G20 leaders with USB sticks'

Henry Baker <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 13:32:01 -0700
FYI—I guess the USB stick giveth & also taketh away.

I haven't been able to determine if this Russian USB hack used the
much-loved autoplay/autorun (autoworm/autospy?) feature of Windows, or
whether this USB stick contained something more sophisticated that somehow
bypassed a disabled autorun USB port.

(BTW, I believe the Chinese govt used to routinely hand out autorun CD's to
commercial visitors that contained some sort of spying feature.)

Nick Squires, Rome, Bruno Waterfield in Brussels and Peter Dominiczak,
Russia 'spied on G20 leaders with USB sticks'; Russia used complimentary
'Trojan horse' pen drives to spy on delegates at G20 summit ...
29 Oct 2013

Russia spied on foreign powers at last month's G20 summit by giving
delegations USB pen drives capable of downloading sensitive information from
laptops, it was claimed today.

The devices were given to foreign delegates, including heads of state, at
the summit near St Petersburg, according to reports in two Italian
newspapers, La Stampa and Corriere della Sera.

Downing Street said David Cameron was not given one of the USB sticks said
to have contained a Trojan horse programme, but did not rule out the
possibility that officials in the British delegation had received them.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "My understanding is that the
Prime Minister didn't receive a USB drive because I think they were a gift
for delegates, not for leaders."

Asked if Downing Street staff were given the USBs, he said: "I believe they
were part of the gifts for delegates."

Delegations also received mobile phone recharging devices which were also
reportedly capable of secretly tapping into emails, text messages and
telephone calls.   [PGN-truncated for RISKS.  See the full article.]

2009: Britain under attack from 20 foreign spy agencies including France and Germany

Lauren Weinstein <>
Thu, 24 Oct 2013 14:25:45 -0700
  Russia and China have been identified as having the most active spy
  networks operating in the UK but it is understood that some European
  countries are also involved in espionage attacks against Britain.  Details
  of the spy plots were revealed in a government security document obtained
  by *The Sunday Telegraph*, which states that Britain is "high priority
  espionage target" for 20 foreign intelligence agencies.  (*Telegraph* via NNSquad)

Just a reminder of the gross hypocrisy in play around the world right now.

IBM: Analyzing fake content on Twitter during real world events: Boston Marathon bombing

Lauren Weinstein <>
Sun, 27 Oct 2013 11:25:17 -0700  ( via NNSquad)

  "Online social media has emerged as one of the prominent channels for
  dissemination of information during real world events. Malicious content
  is posted online during events, which can result in damage, chaos and
  monetary losses in the real world. We analyzed one such media, i.e.,
  Twitter, for content generated during the event of Boston Marathon Blasts,
  that occurred on 15 Apr 2013.  A lot of fake content and malicious proles
  originated on Twitter network during this event. The aim of this work is
  to perform in-depth characterization of what factors influenced in
  malicious content and proles becoming viral.  Our results showed that 29%
  of the most viral content on Twitter, during the Boston crisis were rumors
  and fake content; while 51% was generic opinions and comments; and rest
  was true information"

"There's more than one way to uncover state secrets" (Robert X. Cringely)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 09:33:37 -0700
Robert X. Cringely, InfoWorld, 25 Oct 2013
NSA's ex-director tastes his own medicine when a passenger on the
same train tweets his off-the-record statements

"LinkedIn's Intro tool for iPhones could be a juicy target for attackers" (Zach Miners)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 09:50:59 -0700
Zach Miners, InfoWorld, 28 Oct 2013
The new plug-in for the iPhone's email client raises security
concerns, some experts say

" compromised and used to attack visitors" (Lucian Constantin)

Gene Wirchenko <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 09:47:25 -0700
Lucian Constantin, InfoWorld, 25 Oct 2013
Attackers injected malicious JavaScript code into the site,
redirecting some visitors' browsers to Flash exploits

The RISK of trusting Internet security software makers to maintain safe websites

Michael Weiner <>
Tue, 29 Oct 2013 20:30:18 +0100
This weekend, I fixed a relative's PC. I found a number of security issues
and decided to install ESET anti-virus software. While entering credit card
information to buy a licence of ESET on their website, I lectured my
relative on the need to be extremely careful providing credit card
information on the net. Only then did I notice that, the
security company's website, provided neither a certificate, nor encryption
when I entered the credit card data. The site took my data, but failed to
complete the transaction.

I contacted ESET's customer service 48 hours ago, asking if their site had
been compromised and the credit card data was safe. No response.

I also contacted them on Twitter. No response either. Today, however, they
tweeted the following: "When purchasing anything #online or #banking, use
only sites that begin with 

How anyone can trust such companies amazes me.

Michael Weiner, Vienna, Austria,

Metric System and Math

George Jansen <>
Mon, 28 Oct 2013 14:11:57 +0000
No doubt our clinging to the 360-degree circle also keeps us behind Finland,
etc., in geometry.

It is silly for us to resist the metric system here, but I cannot imagine
any way in which it impedes science instruction. A week given to the units
in an early grade is about what it takes, and after that it is a matter of
measuring and figuring. Who looks at a test tube and says "about 3 ounces"?
Who looks at it and says "about 25 ccs?"  In my school days, I don't recall
ever seeing non-metric measures in the lab, and they ended before 1975.

(I do remember the high school wrestling coach who told his chemistry class
that a milligram was one million grams; but he must be long retired.)

"Biology's Brave New World" by Laurie Garrett in "Foreign Affairs"

Prashanth Mundkur <>
Sun, 27 Oct 2013 00:39:08 -0700
A long update on the promise and perils of the synthetic biology and
dual-use research, and what happens when

  Suddenly, what started as a biology problem has become a matter of
  information security.

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