STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
What is Your Computer Hiding From You?
By Philippe Gastonne - August 31, 2015

In July 2013, GCHQ, Britain's equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, forced journalists at the London headquarters of The Guardian to completely obliterate the memory of the computers on which they kept copies of top-secret documents provided to them by former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

However, in its attempt to destroy information, GCHQ also revealed intriguing details about what it did and why.

Two technologists, Mustafa Al-Bassam and Richard Tynan, visited Guardian headquarters last year to examine the remnants of the devices. Al-Bassam is an ex-hacker who two years ago pleaded guilty to joining attacks on Sony, Nintendo, and other companies, and now studies computer science at King's College; Tynan is a technologist at Privacy International with a PhD in computer science. The pair concluded, first, that GCHQ wanted The Guardian to completely destroy every possible bit of information the news outlet might retain; and second, that GCHQ's instructions may have inadvertently revealed all the locations in your computer where information may be covertly stored. – The Intercept, Aug. 26, 2015

A good question arose in the comments to our Thursday story about U.S. border agents searching and seizing laptop computers. Can't people simply store their data on the cloud to keep it safely from government hands?

Let's think this through. Say you have a few megabytes of data that you wish to keep private. Nothing illegal, just private. You want to access your data after you cross outside U.S. borders. What are your options?

One choice is to store the data in a computer or on a thumb drive and carry it with you. As we saw yesterday, you run the risk of having government agents seize the physical device from you.

Another option is to upload the data to the cloud, safely encrypted from prying eyes, and then download it once you reach your foreign destination. This seems like a better alternative. Is it?

Maybe. The first problem is that your encryption method may be less secure than you think. We know the NSA has open access to some older systems. It also has enough processing power to break into newer ones by brute force, if it thinks you are an especially valuable target. Your cloud upload could be a point of vulnerability.

The story we quote today introduces another wrinkle. The way British authorities forced The Guardian to destroy laptops containing Snowden files suggests the "Five Eyes" countries have ways to hide data elsewhere on a given computer. Every chip has a certain amount of memory, even keyboards and track pad controllers. Does Big Brother know how to exploit them?

Imagine this: NSA or GCHQ implants malware on your computer that instructs it to copy certain kinds of data into empty memory separate from your hard drive or flash chips. You, the owner, may think you wiped the device clean, but you really didn't. This theory could explain why the government is still seizing devices from people even as we think our data resides only in the cloud.

No one has any proof of this, but we can't ignore the possibility. Short of grinding a PC to dust, we can never really be sure we have fully deleted our data.

Old-fashioned pen and paper looks more secure all the time.

Posted in STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
  • Bill Ross

    IMHO, when finding yourself in a war against those who would enslave you, it is absolutely necessary to get your bearings, to understand EXACTLY where in time and space and historical context (current location versus desired location) YOU are, so that crucial information (such as current tactical response to issue X) fits into the overall strategic response that you MUST have, otherwise, even though it may appear you are winning tactical battles (some which may be feints and misdirection), you risk losing the war by misapplication of resources to “issues” off the path that leads to a strategic win.

    Now, I cannot (only YOU can) educate people with all that is required, but there is crucial knowledge that most lack.

    1 – The very first crucial fact is that we, as individuals are at war with those who would enslave us and further, we are out-resourced, so forget a “win” by out gunning them. Understand war and, how to turn the resources and delusions of our enemies against them. IMHO, the absolute best scholar of war was Sun Tzu:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_War

    2 – It is absolutely necessary to “know your enemy”, both to anticipate their moves and, understand their goals to possibly compromise, to avoid the utter devastation of overt conflict. Unfortunately, knowing our enemies leads to this: They are unproductive predators who absolutely refuse to join the ranks of the productive and civilized. The consider us as food, resources to be harvested. By their basic “methods of goal seeking”, they are determined to prey and are NOT open to reason. This is strategically crucial information: They cannot be reasoned with, so any tactics involving “reasoning with them” (such as appealing to their corrupt courts of law, or democracy, false hope) are pointless and a waste of the resources required for a strategic win.

    It is forces of freedom VERSUS forces of servitude. Freedom has repetitively and consistently won this strategic war in the past (and, lost to lack of vigilence), evidenced by history and, THE fact that our predators are forced to use pretexts / rationalizations in terms of freedom and common interest, an evolutionary adaption to APPEAR to be allied with the winning side. And, freedom IS the winning side, enforced by natural law, which current ruling fools have taken on.

    Clearly, if freedom is to win, the warriors must understand EXACTLY what freedom is and, how to use it to achieve a strategic win against those who act against and in total ignorance of history, natural law (of nature, reality) and, the basic survival interests of mankind and civilization:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c8/42

    Now, returning to this article: The information security of our property is a tactical, but not strategic issue. Assuming innovation and the market solves this problem (and, it will), there will always be other tactical issues / battles. The overall strategy of freedom winning is the ball we must keep our eyes on and align our dissent to.

    Bottom line: the predators will never voluntarily stop until there are no proceeds for their crimes and, it is not in their interests (the costs to prey exceed the benefits). This war is, at its heart economic and, market (unseen hand of our collective choices), human action and will to survive will prevail. The predators cannot, in the long run prevail, because their greedy / psychopathic nature demands they prey until their is nothing more to steal, then, they must turn on each other and, the last one standing, with final gasp of life will have an epiphany: oops, no prey, bye.

    BTW, WW3 is alive and well and, may just be a continuation of WW2 (against former allies).

    • BTW, WW3 is alive and well and, may just be a continuation of WW2 (against former allies). …. Bill Ross

      The City of London and FTSE Traders vs Wall Street and NYSE Invaders is a current active sort of war for losers with only pyrrhic victories available ….. and thus is nothing there real and sustainable.

      It’s a fools’ zero sum game to be played and exploited …… and to destruction is not necessarily a fool move to deliver novel fields of much more expansive and intelligent levels of play with both radical and revolutionary virtual activity.

      To imagine the West though be ruling anything via that remote control portal, is surely to deny the role and existence of the East in regulating everything with its modern day plays to a different set of enigmatic rules/revisionary standards?

    • The Pentagon’s rhetorical games also serve to mask a real high-stakes process; essentially an energy war – centering on the control of oil, natural gas and mineral resources of Russia and Central Asia. Will this wealth be controlled by oligarch frontmen “supervised” by their masters in New York and London, or by Russia and its Central Asian partners? Thus the relentless propaganda war.

      A case can be made that the Masters of the Universe have resurrected the same old containment/threat geopolitical alibis – peddled by what we could dub the Brzezinski/Stratfor connection — to cover, or conceal, another stark fact.

      And the fact is that the real reason for Cold War 2.0 is New York/London financial power suffering a trillion dollar-plus loss when President Putin extracted Russia from their looting schemes. …… http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-08-31/myth-russian-threat

      The Great Game that some folk today do play ….. exceedingly badly.

      • Bill Ross

        “exceedingly badly”

        be that as it may. Badly, although it is tempting to underestimate the enemies who war upon us (the puppets to predators writ large) states, the knowledge of war is clear: NEVER underestimate your enemies. That which may be perceived as a mistake, may be a trap, a feint to divert resources off the strategic path to winning (not being prey / slaves).

        In all honesty, I have not fully wrapped my mind around the environment and, therefore, EXACT thought process / goals that those who can print money from nothing and have arranged matters such that they are NEVER accountable are tolerated to exist in. Perhaps I never will, since my internal controls prevent me from trodding where they appear to be: insanity.

        so, I assume that they are at least as intelligent as I, although, they seem to be oblivious to morality and the inevitable scorched earth that their progeny, if any survive will inherit.

        • In all honesty, I have not fully wrapped my mind around the environment and, therefore, EXACT thought process / goals that those who can print money from nothing and have arranged matters such that they are NEVER accountable are tolerated to exist in. Perhaps I never will, since my internal controls prevent me from trodding where they appear to be: insanity.

          so, I assume that they are at least as intelligent as I, although, they seem to be oblivious to morality and the inevitable scorched earth that their progeny, if any survive will inherit. …. Bill Ross

          Such an assumption …. ”that they are at least as intelligent as I” ….. is a wise consideration to accommodate but to not imagine and realise that it be totally false whenever thoughts and actions are not wholly good, will render one both practically and virtually ineffective and defenceless in the madness and mayhem that results and presents itself with media carrying the tales and programs and pogroms, Bill.

          And you may not be wrong in surmising that one has to be wheeling and dealing with insanity to have both positive constructive and negative destructive impact in futures with futures and derivative options which design to hedge all risks and create crazy opportunities to exploit and explode in dodgy rigged market places/wacky wild west cyber spaces.

          Leading existence has changed, and worlds are no longer as they used to be, careless ignorant playgrounds of the selfish arrogant and superficially rich and relatively carefree.

  • Praetor

    You just gott’a love the net and computers. From an article at the NY Post, Karsten Nohl, chief scientist with Berlin’s SR labs, ( Now all of your USB devices are infected. It becomes self-propagating and extremely persistent. You can never remove it. The ‘Firmware’ manufacturers are not required to secure their firmware. It looks like the controller chips for your mice, keyboards and an USB devices are totally unsecure. So, all the security methods using anti – virus, malware everything anti this/that and firewalls and the like, doesn’t scan the ‘Firmware’ of which controls all functions of those devices, of the USB kind. All the billions spent on securing your computer, to protect it from who knows what, is for not. In the minds of the sleazy self proclaimed masters of the universe, these machines we use are theirs, so they can do what ever they want, with them. Just the other day, I wrote a letter to a niece. You gott’a love the net and computers. Skewer them!!!

  • For the freedom loving/ thinking individual [assuming there are any here 🙂 ], there are so many ways around this type of problem, _if_ one simply steps back, takes a deep breath or two, and puts on one’s thinking cap.

    To expand on any of them here, however, would be a complete waste of time and counterproductive, for many, what should be obvious, reasons. 🙂 .

    Regards, onebornfree
    Financial Safety & personal freedom consulting
    onebornfreeatyahoo

  • Impending Sky

    99% of the effort of writing a piece of software is getting your theoretical ducks in a row. The other 1% is tedious implementation. Once you have solved a substantially difficult problem you will never forget your solution. If the problem is uninteresting to the point of tedium, chances are you used a library. Re-implementing your ideas is not that hard, to the contrary the implementation will probably be cleaner the second time around.

    My drives could crash tomorrow and the backups could disappear. Within a week I would be back where I was. Regardless, there is no incentive to allow my data to be subject to the draconian US border. Free markets being what they are, I choose not to subject myself to the police state.

    Caveat: this does not apply to dumps of state secrets. Greenwald and friends could easily come up with a better method of transport than physical media on airplanes.

  • robertsgt40

    Welcome to Amerika, Orwell’s surveillance state.

  • The story we quote today introduces another wrinkle. The way British authorities forced The Guardian to destroy laptops containing Snowden files suggests the “Five Eyes” countries have ways to hide data elsewhere on a given computer. Every chip has a certain amount of memory, even keyboards and track pad controllers. Does Big Brother know how to exploit them?

    Methinks the much bigger Big Brother concern/realisation/virtualisation is they know they are exploited by them. Virtual machines have taken over systems administration in human action.

    Considerable stealth and practical immunity with a protective impunity in any and all future action/leading proaction/NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActivIT is afforded and delivered to such a novelty simply by one/the masses not believing such is the case and expanding reality…… Big Bang Virtual Reality.

    Some may have noticed the development, but as to whether they are able to do anything to influence and/or direct it/IT in any sustained way of their choosing, is a question best left unanswered if the problem/opportunity doesn’t require a solution …… Some things just are what they are and have to be accepted.

    ”…US Cyber Command, with the Services and other partners, are doing something that our military has never done before. We are putting in place foundational systems and processes … for organizing, training, equipping, and operating our military cyber capabilities to meet cyber threats… Our legacy forces lack the training and the readiness to confront advanced threats in cyberspace.” …. Gen. Keith B. Alexander [Feb 27 2014]

  • Joelg

    A most interesting article. Thank you for the Intercept link.

    Data security experts sometimes chop up the information into pieces (like the way messages are chopped up into data packets for Internet transmission, and then reassembled at the destination), and can then store the information packets in multiple places to make interception of the entire message difficult to retrieve and reassemble even if some message fragments are captured and decrypted.

    GCHQ no doubt was responding to the demands of their CIA/NSA Masters at USA.gov; just as they keep the WikiLeaks guru, Julian Asange, prisoner in London at behest of Washington. The Brits are for all practical purposes governed behind the scenes as a virtual colony of their former colony, the USA. A fitting role reversal, the Former Colonial Masters (Brits) now being effectively bossed around as Colonies by the EU and USA.gov. I suspect we have entered an era of Universal Slavery, though it is Politically Incorrect to refer to American Hegemony or One-World Government (EU-style) that way.

    • bouf

      I’m afraid you have it backwards. The Brits regained control of their former colony in 1913. We have been the do-boy since then.

      • Joelg

        Bouf, you are right about 1913-1945. Post-World War II however the Sun has Set on the British Empire (vastly shrunken in size and power). Hence, the Neo-Cons have been able to proclaim American Hegemony in more recent decades. A lot of change from 1913 to 2015, including Germany’s fall, rise, fall again, and rise again in EU dominance.

  • Max Hernandez

    If you haven’t looked at Thieves Emporium yet, you should, because this is one of the major themes of the work. It’s offered as an unabridged serial at http://www.thedailybell.com/editorials/36492/Max-Hernandez-Thieves-Emporium-Part-8-Prometheus/.

    • Methinks, Max Hernandez, and I would never presume to state it with anything bolder, it is, as well as in Thieves Emporium, one of the major themes of myriad works in present progress …… and causing all manner of terrifying concerns to previously thought impregnable establishment positions/exclusive executive power elite systems of operation …… Man Management.

      And goodness knows what it going to appear in the future building upon what is being revealed willy nilly and everywhere. Interesting times in such cyber spaces with interdependent and interindependent realities/virtual realities, indeed.

  • Ochie

    I seem to remember a TV program in which it was shown that every copy machine had a hard drive that kept an image of every piece of paper copied.

  • Phyl

    The U.S. and Israeli intelligence services reportedly have been booby-trapping all of the world’s computer systems since the 1980’s

    http://www.buchal.com/library/coverups/inslawpromis.htm

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