08/31/13: The New York Times reports the FBI has increased its surveillance of Syrians inside the US in response to concerns that a military strike against the government of President Bashar al-Assad could lead to terrorist attacks here or against American allies and interests abroad, according to current and former senior United States officials. The government has also taken the unusual step of warning federal agencies and private companies that American military action in Syria could spur cyberattacks, the officials said. There were no such alerts before previous military operations, like the one against Libya in 2011. The authorities are particularly concerned because Iran — one of Mr. Assad’s closest allies — has said there will be reprisals against Israel if the United States attacks Syria. The Iranians have also shown a willingness to sponsor terrorist attacks on American targets, according to the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a continuing operation.
06/10/13: Foreign Policy published an article by Matthew M. Aid discussing an elite, rarely discussed, team of NSA hackers and spies targeting America's enemies abroad. This weekend, President Barack Obama sat down for a series of meetings with China's newly appointed leader, Xi Jinping. We know that the two leaders spoke at length about the topic du jour -- cyber espionage. The media has focused at length on China's aggressive attempts to electronically steal US military and commercial secrets, but Xi pushed back noting that China, too, was the recipient of cyber espionage. It turns out that the Chinese government's allegations are essentially correct. According to a number of confidential sources, a highly secretive unit of the National Security Agency (NSA), the US government's huge electronic eavesdropping organization, called the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO, has successfully penetrated Chinese computer and telecommunications systems for almost 15 years, generating some of the best and most reliable intelligence information about what is going on inside the People's Republic of China. The problem is that TAO has become so large and produces so much valuable intelligence information that it has become virtually impossible to hide it anymore. The Chinese government is certainly aware of TAO's activities. The "mountains of data" statement by China's top Internet official, Huang Chengqing, is clearly an implied threat by Beijing to release this data. Thus it is unlikely that President Obama pressed President Xi too hard at the Sunnydale summit on the question of China's cyber espionage activities.
05/21/13: The Washington Times reports a cheap new encryption technology for mobile phones completely blocks eavesdropping, even from warrant-wielding law enforcement agents – raising fears the technology could fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. The software poses a growing problem that US law enforcement agencies call “going dark” – the spread of communications technologies that cannot be intercepted even with a warrant because agencies lack the technical capabilities. But experts say the feds’ proposed solution to get around the blackout – by legally mandating the insertion of “back doors” into such software to allow eavesdropping – creates an opening which could be exploited by hackers, online criminals or cyberspies. The issue is not unique to the United States. Intelligence and counter-terrorism officials in the United Kingdom are concerned about the new mobile phone application, called Seecrypt, according the London Mail on Sunday. The app provides individual users with military grade encryption — sending voice and text over the Internet in an a scrambled data stream that can only be deciphered by another user. The new application, which is free to download and will cost $3 a month, is made by a South African-based company, Porton Group, that boasts “we don’t comply” with such mandates, said CEO Harvey Boulter. The program does not have a “Legal Intercept” capability. Last year, the US company Silent Circle caused consternation in law enforcement circles when they launched a similar package here.