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[liberationtech] The battle for your digital soul

spider spider at
Thu Sep 12 09:49:58 PDT 2013

Article from SilentCircle, written by Mike Janke:

There have been so many disclosures, revelations and speculations since 
Snowden fled and the media trickled out one tantalizing slide after the 
next- that it’s hard not to get overwhelmed. It’s hard not to get angry.

Now that the sheer scope and massive worldwide surveillance of the NSA 
has come to light over the last few months, it seems as if a veritable 
cloud of “Privacy Depression” has set in lately among citizens and the 
technology community at large. Adding to that hot mess is the willing 
complicity of the tech giants, backbone providers and hardware 
manufactures. Fuel to the fire.

Yes, there are some feigning outrage, some with true concern, and 
others calling for heads-on-a-platter while western intelligence 
agencies and big technology firms hunker down and hope it all goes away. 
It won’t. It’s only going to get worse for them and the government.

Through the great work of The Guardian, New York Times, Washington 
Post, ProPublica and Der Spiegel we now have a much clearer 
understanding of what we are up against. Along with all of this new 
information comes some confusion, wild speculation and some 
understandable depression about society as a whole ever winning back 
it’s basic right of privacy. Don’t buy into this thinking. Don’t drink 
the “all is lost” Kool-Aid, because we are winning.

We at Silent Circle believe these revelations and disclosures are some 
of the best things that could happen to the technology sector. In fact, 
the battle for your digital soul has turned strongly towards Privacy’s 
corner because we now know what we are up against. We are beginning to 
define the capabilities and tactics of the world’s surveillance machine. 
Before all of this -we speculated, guessed and hypothesized that it was 
bad –we were all way off. It’s horrendous. It’s Orwell’s 1984 on 
steroids. It doesn’t matter –we will win the war.

Last week we saw headlines about the NSA having made incredible 
breakthroughs in cryptanalysis and being able to crack SSL and VPN’s. 
Some media outlets that we spoke to were under the faulty impression 
that “all encryption had been easily broken” by the NSA and they 
possessed some magic black boxes that instantly decrypted everything. 
Hence the deeper onset of Privacy Depression that set in around the 

Don’t buy the hype. Trust the math and strong encryption. One of the 
world’s greatest technology security experts, Bruce Schneier, wrote some 
terrifically clear and concise articles about these revelations and is 
perhaps in the best position to clarify what these recent disclosures 
mean. He has reviewed all of Snowden’s documents. Here is a quote from 
his article in The Guardian a few days ago that sums up the reality of 
the situation:

“Honestly, I’m skeptical. Whatever the NSA has up its top-secret 
sleeves, the mathematics of cryptography will still be the most secure 
part of any encryption system. I worry a lot more about poorly designed 
cryptographic products, software bugs, bad passwords, companies that 
collaborate with the NSA to leak all or part of the keys, and insecure 
computers and networks. Those are where the real vulnerabilities are, 
and where the NSA spends the bulk of its efforts.”

He is spot-on here in his comments. The security technology community 
has known for a long time that the platforms are the weak link (Windows, 
Mac, Android, browsers, IOS, Firefox OS, etc.) and we have known for 
years that it’s wise to be skeptical of mass-produced hardware as well 
(routers, servers, etc.). The fact that the NSA and the Chinese (Huawei) 
have pressured hardware and phone makers to be “surveillance friendly” 
is not new either, we just now have concrete proof right in front of our 
collective faces. We are really lucky this information has come to 
light. It’s a true gift. We are going to use it to set the government 
surveillance machines back 7-10 years. Back to where they should be to 
accomplish their responsibilities without violating those rights that 
they are in place to protect.

A lot has been made about the “35,000 NSA employees and $11 Billion 
spent annually on Department of Defense-wide Consolidated Cryptologic 
Program” along with $440 Million spent annually on Research & 
Technology. That is a hell of a lot of money and manpower. Good –I hope 
they increase both, because it’s good for us. Why? Its called 
bureaucratic, Red Tape, B and C grade talent, committees, focus groups, 
audit committees, professional politics, backstabbing, budget fights, 
and waste –in summary “Big, Bloated, Incompetent Government”.

I spent a good portion of my adult life in Special Operations –it’s an 
environment of innovation, A+ talent, self-sufficiency, and zero 
tolerance for bureaucracy. It’s about small teams of highly talented and 
dedicated people with skill and daring outwitting huge clunky armies. 
The NSA and the world’s government’s surveillance organizations are 
huge, bloated clunky armies. If you ever worked in a large corporation 
or government agency, then you know what I mean. It’s like the movie 
“Office Space” all over again.

They can have their $11 Billion dollars and armies of C-grade talent. I 
will put my money on people like Phil Zimmermann, Bruce Schneier, Jon 
Callas, Moxie Marlinspike, Charlie Miller, Kim Dotcom, the guys from 
Pirate Bay, Jacob Appelbaum, Chris Soghoian, and Nadim Kobeissi. 
Freakishly talented people like The Grugq, Mike Kershaw, Mudge, Matthew 
Green, Nick DePetrillo, and security researchers like Mark Dowd and 
Steve Thomas. Add to this the hundreds of thousands of highly creative, 
innovative and kick-ass new wave of smart hackers, coders and engineers 
focused on finding vulnerabilities and building cool secure systems – 
it’s not even a fair fight.

Small teams of highly experienced programmers can iterate builds, test 
and get feedback from expert talent around the world literally overnight 
– and produce groundbreaking innovations in secure communications and 
technology faster than the NSA can hold a budget meeting.

Now that we are armed with the solid evidence of what the surveillance 
state is doing and how they are doing it –sit back and watch as new 
hardware and software comes out of small innovative companies that 
disrupt entire multi-billion dollar cloud, communications, and 
telecommunications industries – based upon secure architecture and 
strategies learned from these disclosures.

Now that we know coercion, secret FISA courts, chummy-agreements with 
giant tech firms, National Security Letters, trunk line tapping and 
encryption standards-manipulation are the playing field – it’s game on.

We at Silent Circle feel it’s the dawn of a new age of secure 
communication and the real innovators of the world are just getting 
started. Simple secure phones, custom-made open source routers, servers, 
new encryption standards and software are going to come out in droves.

The battle for your digital soul has now begun. Sit back, grab a drink 
and watch this battle unfold from your back-doored computer, leaking 
browser, cracked VPN, compromised operating system and zero-day infected 
phone. My money is on the outraged innovators. This is going to be fun.

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