Trust and Paranoia

So, just how much do you trust the NSA?  Do you even trust it’s “professionalism”?

Your Humble Blogger is the Probable Target of Penny-Ante Cyber Predation

by Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Posted on February 26, 2014

I was hacked yesterday.

On the scale of hacks, it was simultaneously trivial but meant to intimidate. Or else hugely inept.

I am on some politically-oriented listservs. They are all Google Groups, hence one has to have a Google account to post to them and receive messages from them. I also have one political correspondent who was very communicative a while back, and so I also filtered his messages into a separate folder. Generally I’m not a fan of filtering (I prefer to get everything in my main mail account) but these were two exceptions where it made sense to put them in a separate place. He uses Gmail. I set up both folders under my Gmail account.

Both those email boxes were gone yesterday. That does not mean the contents were gone, that means the folders were deleted and the messages were gone too (I use IMAP, not POP).

I am highly confident (to use the old Drexel formulation) that I didn’t delete them by accident. First, Macs give you all sorts of warnings for actions like that. Second, I only occasionally access those folders, and you have to highlight those accounts to do something stupid to them. Third, the removal of one could conceivably be an accident, but two? Particularly since these are the only two that are focused solely on political activity (by contrast, my main email box has so much spam, both genuine spam and news-related spamming, that the noise to content ratio is very high).

The more interesting question is therefore what this signifies. Deleting two folders both politically-related, is either very clumsy or intended to send a message. If the latter, even though I regularly harass banks, I doubt they’d be that interested. I don’t do much original reporting, as opposed to interpreting and sharpening public domain information. Banks are more concerned about what runs in the New York Times or the Washington Post or USA Today (or until recently, Rolling Stone). Blogs are ankle-biters at most and I doubt they see them as any threat. By contrast, I’ve been told our efforts have been helpful in at least for now stymieing the TransPacific Partnership, and we’ve also been consistent critics of Obamacare. My sense is the Democratic party feels vulnerable on the Obamacare front, with the Senate majority at risk in the midterm elections and the Republicans pounding on that topic (as confirmed by the frequency of the attacks in Democrat-favoring blogs on the MSM stories critical of Obamacare). So the odds favor this being someone who is not happy with our political writings of late. Note that the Project on Government Oversight, clearly a more influential group than NC, had a break-in that looked designed to intimidate rather than extract information. So this may be the fashion of the month in incursions.

Nevertheless, this sort of incursion is the cyber analogue of the sort of penny-ante predation the banks engage in routinely, like charging 3% for foreign exchange transactions. Yes, you can get a separate no-FX charge card, but if you are busy like me, and you actually do buy once in a while from foreign sites, it’s altogether too easy to forget to check to pay that weirdo card you hardly use and incur more in late fees than the 3% ripoff on your regular card. Or how about the $25 account charge if you balance drops below a certain level? I had that happen all of one day in one month last year and was royally pissed, and it was due to the order in which they credited charges versus deposits that day. Not worth fighting it.

Remember, if my aim was to end vulnerability, I can’t secure my communications by myself. I either have to encrypt (which requires two party cooperation) or at least get my most important correspondents on a more secure mail service. And I can’t participate in these very useful Google Groups. And if you’ve got a determined, well-connected intruder, we now know computers have backdoors at the Bios level. How does a mere mortal like me contend with that when even the hard-core techies seem flummoxed?

So just as we’ve all become resigned to having banks take more than they deserve, most of us are similarly resigned to routine snooping (the capture of data by vendors, use of cookies, etc). Those of us who are more visible on the Web face a correspondingly greater level of exposure. It’s just not possible to be secure and be on the Web, and I may accidentally be a little less at risk than most people in my shoes, not by virtue of great planning or even adequate defenses, but simply by not having migrated as much of my life to the computer or even a stupid phone as have the overwhelming majority of Americans.

Yes, we should be alarmed by documentation that shows spy agencies could be involved in dirty tricks

by digby, Hullabaloo

2/25/2014 01:30:00 PM

I notice that people are complaining about Glenn Greenwald’s latest piece about the spy agencies’ ratfucking operations because of its “tone” and I realize that it’s time to remind people of this little episode in case anyone’s gotten it into their heads that this is just some paranoid conspiracy theory.

If they could give us even one good reason beyond “because we can” and “maybe we might find it useful some day” perhaps people would be less alarmed. But when you have documented misuse of the data by private organizations, documented plans to use propaganda and dirty tricks to discredit dissenters along with not even one example of how these programs have been helpful, it’s just beyond my ken as to why people are still defending the government’s ongoing insistence that this is perfectly above board.

I truly believe that lies at the center of this issue. The national security apparatus and, in particular, the spy agencies, are like a cloistered cult at this point, completely oblivious to the real world implications of what they are doing or how it’s being perceived. They seem to be stunned that anyone would question them — a very bad characteristic for any institution with the kind of power they have. You don’t have to be an oracle to see how that can go sideways very easily. Indeed, all you have to do is look at that Chamber of Commerce gambit to see exactly how it can happen.


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