Category Archives: EMAILS

Around AU$200m later, data retention mostly used for chasing drugs, not terror

The Attorney-General’s Department has exposed a report outlining the opening months of Australia’s data retention scheme.

Australia’s telecommunications companies have been left with a funding hole of over AU$70 million to cover the capital costs of Australia’s data retention scheme, according to the Telecommunications Interception And Access Act 1979 Annual Report 2015-16 [PDF], while data authorisations for terrorism ranked below those for illicit drug offences.

www.policesearch.net

Despite handing out AU$128 million in grants last year, the report, released on Monday, states that the capital cost to industry will total AU$198 million by the end of the 2016-17 financial year.

“Information collected from industry through the Data Retention Industry Grants Programme indicates that the estimated capital cost of implementing data retention obligations over the period between 30 October 2014 and 13 April 2017 is AU$198,527,354,” the report said.

“[Costs] relate to the anticipated direct upfront capital costs and not the recurring or indirect costs associated with compliance.”

In 2015, Attorney-General George Brandis said he expected the average ongoing cost for telcos to run their data retention system would be around AU$4 per month.

The report said the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) received 210 applications for funding, of which 10 were withdrawn, and 180 telecommunications providers were found to be eligible for funding. Of that 180, “most” were awarded a grant to cover 80 percent of their costs.

It was also detailed that during the implementation period for the data retention scheme, AGD received 402 data retention implementation plans from 310 providers.

Under Australia’s data retention laws, passed by both major parties in March 2015, telecommunications carriers must store customer call records, location information, IP addresses, billing information, and other data for two years, accessible without a warrant by law-enforcement agencies.

Over the period from October 13, 2015 to June 30, 2016, the report said the offence for which the highest number of authorisations to telco data was made was illicit drug offences, with 57,166. This was followed in ranking by miscellaneous, homicide, robbery, fraud, theft, and abduction.

Terrorism offences ranked below property damage and cybercrime, with 4,454 authorisations made.

As part of the data retention laws, the spirit of the legislation was to restrict access to stored metadata to a list of approved enforcement agencies, with those agencies not on the list theoretically having access removed on October 12, 2015.

Overall, the report said 63 enforcement agencies made 333,980 authorisations for retained data, of which 326,373 related to criminal law.

“In 2015-16, law enforcement agencies made 366 arrests, conducted 485 proceedings, and obtained 195 convictions based on evidence obtained under stored communications warrants,” the report said.

During 2015-16, 3,857 telecommunication interception warrants were issued, with interception data used in 3,019 arrests, 3,726 prosecutions, and 1,812 convictions. Total cost for interception warrants was AU$70.3 million, at an average cost of AU$619,200 per warrant.

Australia Post accounted for 64 authorisations between June 30 and October 12, 2015, compared to none the year before; and the Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources made 173 authorisations in 3.5 months compared to 226 the entire financial year prior.

It was also noted that on six occasions, warrants were exercised by people not authorised to; in three instances, the Ombudsman could not determine whether stored communications related to the person named on a warrant; and in one instance, it could not determine who had received stored communications from a carrier.

It was also revealed that during the 2015-16 year, the Western Australia Police had received a pair of journalist warrants, which saw 33 authorisations of data made.

“These authorisations were for the purpose of enforcing the criminal law,” the report said.

In April, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) revealed that it had “mistakenly” accessed a journalist’s call records without a warrant in breach of the data retention legislation.

It was subsequently learned that AGD had advised government departments to skirt metadata laws and rely on coercive powers.

In May, the Commonwealth Ombudsman found the AFP to be handling metadata in a compliant manner, but noted a number of exceptions.

“We identified two instances where a stored communications warrant had been applied for and subsequently issued in respect of multiple persons, which is not provided for under the Act,” the report said.

In response, the AFP said its warrant templates were not clear enough.

www.druglinks.info

Henry Sapiecha

Famed Hacker Kevin Mitnick Shows You How to become Invisible Online

If you’re like me, one of the first things you do in the morning is check your email. And, if you’re like me, you also wonder who else has read your email. That’s not a paranoid concern. If you use a web-based email service such as Gmail or Outlook 365, the answer is kind of obvious and frightening.

About the author

Kevin Mitnick (@kevinmitnick) is a security consultant, public speaker, and former hacker. The company he founded, Mitnick Security Consulting LLC, has clients that include dozens of the Fortune 500 and world governments. He is the author of Ghost in the Wires, The Art of Intrusion, and The Art of Deception.

Even if you delete an email the moment you read it on your computer or mobile phone, that doesn’t necessarily erase the content. There’s still a copy of it somewhere. Web mail is cloud-based, so in order to be able to access it from any device anywhere, at any time, there have to be redundant copies. If you use Gmail, for example, a copy of every email sent and received through your Gmail account is retained on various servers worldwide at Google. This is also true if you use email systems provided by Yahoo, Apple, AT&T, Comcast, Microsoft, or even your workplace. Any emails you send can also be inspected, at any time, by the hosting company. Allegedly this is to filter out malware, but the reality is that third parties can and do access our emails for other, more sinister and self-serving, reasons.

While most of us may tolerate having our emails scanned for malware, and perhaps some of us tolerate scanning for advertising purposes, the idea of third parties reading our correspondence and acting on specific contents found within specific emails is downright disturbing.

The least you can do is make it much harder for them to do so.

Start With Encryption

Most web-based email services use encryption when the email is in transit. However, when some services transmit mail between Mail Transfer Agents (MTAs), they may not be using encryption, thus your message is in the open. To become invisible you will need to encrypt your messages.

Most email encryption uses what’s called asymmetrical encryption. That means I generate two keys: a private key that stays on my device, which I never share, and a public key that I post freely on the internet. The two keys are different yet mathematically related.

For example: Bob wants to send Alice a secure email. He finds Alice’s public key on the internet or obtains it directly from Alice, and when sending a message to her encrypts the message with her key. This message will stay encrypted until Alice—and only Alice—uses a passphrase to unlock her private key and unlock the encrypted message.

So how would encrypting the contents of your email work?

The most popular method of email encryption is PGP, which stands for “Pretty Good Privacy.” It is not free. It is a product of the Symantec Corporation. But its creator, Phil Zimmermann, also authored an open-source version, OpenPGP, which is free. And a third option, GPG (GNU Privacy Guard), created by Werner Koch, is also free. The good news is that all three are interoperational. That means that no matter which version of PGP you use, the basic functions are the same.

When Edward Snowden first decided to disclose the sensitive data he’d copied from the NSA, he needed the assistance of like-minded people scattered around the world. Privacy advocate and filmmaker Laura Poitras had recently finished a documentary about the lives of whistle-blowers. Snowden wanted to establish an encrypted exchange with Poitras, except only a few people knew her public key.

Snowden reached out to Micah Lee of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lee’s public key was available online and, according to the account published on the Intercept, he had Poitras’s public key. Lee checked to see if Poitras would permit him to share it. She would.

Given the importance of the secrets they were about to share, Snowden and Poitras could not use their regular e‑mail addresses. Why not? Their personal email accounts contained unique associations—such as specific interests, lists of contacts—that could identify each of them. Instead Snowden and Poitras decided to create new email addresses.

How would they know each other’s new email addresses? In other words, if both parties were totally anonymous, how would they know who was who and whom they could trust? How could Snowden, for example, rule out the possibility that the NSA or someone else wasn’t posing as Poitras’s new email account? Public keys are long, so you can’t just pick up a secure phone and read out the characters to the other person. You need a secure email exchange.

By enlisting Lee once again, both Snowden and Poitras could anchor their trust in someone when setting up their new and anonymous email accounts. Poitras first shared her new public key with Lee. Lee did not use the actual key but instead a 40-character abbreviation (or a fingerprint) of Poitras’s public key. This he posted to a public site—Twitter.

Sometimes in order to become invisible you have to use the visible.

Now Snowden could anonymously view Lee’s tweet and compare the shortened key to the message he received. If the two didn’t match, Snowden would know not to trust the email. The message might have been compromised. Or he might be talking instead to the NSA. In this case, the two matched.

Snowden finally sent Poitras an encrypted e‑mail identifying himself only as “Citizenfour.” This signature became the title of her Academy Award–winning documentary about his privacy rights campaign.

That might seem like the end—now they could communicate securely via encrypted e‑mail—but it wasn’t. It was just the beginning.

Picking an Encryption Service

Both the strength of the mathematical operation and the length of the encryption key determine how easy it is for someone without a key to crack your code.

Encryption algorithms in use today are public. You want that. Public algorithms have been vetted for weakness—meaning people have been purposely trying to break them. Whenever one of the public algorithms becomes weak or is cracked, it is retired, and newer, stronger algorithms are used instead.

The keys are (more or less) under your control, and so, as you might guess, their management is very important. If you generate an encryption key, you—and no one else—will have the key stored on your device. If you let a company perform the encryption, say, in the cloud, then that company might also keep the key after he or she shares it with you and may also be compelled by court order to share the key with law enforcement or a government agency, with or without a warrant.

When you encrypt a message—an e‑mail, text, or phone call—use end‑to‑end encryption. That means your message stays unreadable until it reaches its intended recipient. With end‑to‑end encryption, only you and your recipient have the keys to decode the message. Not the telecommunications carrier, website owner, or app developer—the parties that law enforcement or government will ask to turn over information about you. Do a Google search for “end‑to‑end encryption voice call.” If the app or service doesn’t use end-to-end encryption, then choose another.

If all this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. But there are PGP plug-ins for the Chrome and Firefox Internet browsers that make encryption easier. One is Mailvelope, which neatly handles the public and private encryption keys of PGP. Simply type in a passphrase, which will be used to generate the public and private keys. Then whenever you write a web-based email, select a recipient, and if the recipient has a public key available, you will then have the option to send that person an encrypted message.

Beyond Encryption: Metadata

Even if you encrypt your e‑mail messages with PGP, a small but information-rich part of your message is still readable by just about anyone. In defending itself from the Snowden revelations, the US government stated repeatedly that it doesn’t capture the actual contents of our emails, which in this case would be unreadable with PGP encryption. Instead, the government said it collects only the email’s metadata.

What is email metadata? It is the information in the To and From fields as well as the IP addresses of the various servers that handle the email from origin to recipient. It also includes the subject line, which can sometimes be very revealing as to the encrypted contents of the message. Metadata, a legacy from the early days of the internet, is still included on every email sent and received, but modern email readers hide this information from display.

That might sound okay, since the third parties are not actually reading the content, and you probably don’t care about the mechanics of how those emails traveled—the various server addresses and the time stamps—but you’d be surprised by how much can be learned from the email path and the frequency of emails alone.

According to Snowden, our email, text, and phone metadata is being collected by the NSA and other agencies. But the government can’t collect metadata from everyone—or can it? Technically, no. However, there’s been a sharp rise in “legal” collection since 2001.

You’d be surprised by how much can be learned from the email path and the frequency of emails alone.

To become truly invisible in the digital world you will need to do more than encrypt your messages. You will need to:

Remove your true IP address: This is your point of connection to the Internet, your fingerprint. It can show where you are (down to your physical address) and what provider you use.
Obscure your hardware and software: When you connect to a website online, a snapshot of the hardware and software you’re using may be collected by the site.
Defend your anonymity: Attribution online is hard. Proving that you were at the keyboard when an event occurred is difficult. However, if you walk in front of a camera before going online at Starbucks, or if you just bought a latte at Starbucks with your credit card, these actions can be linked to your online presence a few moments later.

To start, your IP address reveals where you are in the world, what provider you use, and the identity of the person paying for the internet service (which may or may not be you). All these pieces of information are included within the email metadata and can later be used to identify you uniquely. Any communication, whether it’s email or not, can be used to identify you based on the Internal Protocol (IP) address that’s assigned to the router you are using while you are at home, work, or a friend’s place.

IP addresses in emails can of course be forged. Someone might use a proxy address—not his or her real IP address but someone else’s—that an email appears to originate from another location. A proxy is like a foreign-language translator—you speak to the translator, and the translator speaks to the foreign-language speaker—only the message remains exactly the same. The point here is that someone might use a proxy from China or even Germany to evade detection on an email that really comes from North Korea.

Instead of hosting your own proxy, you can use a service known as an anonymous remailer, which will mask your email’s IP address for you. An anonymous remailer simply changes the email address of the sender before sending the message to its intended recipient. The recipient can respond via the remailer. That’s the simplest version.

One way to mask your IP address is to use the onion router (Tor), which is what Snowden and Poitras did. Tor is designed to be used by people living in harsh regimes as a way to avoid censorship of popular media and services and to prevent anyone from tracking what search terms they use. Tor remains free and can be used by anyone, anywhere—even you.

How does Tor work? It upends the usual model for accessing a website. When you use Tor, the direct line between you and your target website is obscured by additional nodes, and every ten seconds the chain of nodes connecting you to whatever site you are looking at changes without disruption to you. The various nodes that connect you to a site are like layers within an onion. In other words, if someone were to backtrack from the destination website and try to find you, they’d be unable to because the path would be constantly changing. Unless your entry point and your exit point become associated somehow, your connection is considered anonymous.

To use Tor you will need the modified Firefox browser from the Tor site (torproject.org). Always look for legitimate Tor browsers for your operating system from the Tor project website. Do not use a third-party site. For Android operating systems, Orbot is a legitimate free Tor app from Google Play that both encrypts your traffic and obscures your IP address. On iOS devices (iPad, iPhone), install the Onion Browser, a legitimate app from the iTunes app store.

In addition to allowing you to surf the searchable Internet, Tor gives you access to a world of sites that are not ordinarily searchable—what’s called the Dark Web. These are sites that don’t resolve to common names such as Google.com and instead end with the .onion extension. Some of these hidden sites offer, sell, or provide items and services that may be illegal. Some of them are legitimate sites maintained by people in oppressed parts of the world.

It should be noted, however, that there are several weaknesses with Tor: You have no control over the exit nodes, which may be under the control of government or law enforcement; you can still be profiled and possibly identified; and Tor is very slow.

That being said, if you still decide to use Tor you should not run it in the same physical device that you use for browsing. In other words, have a laptop for browsing the web and a separate device for Tor (for instance, a Raspberry Pi minicomputer running Tor software). The idea here is that if somebody is able to compromise your laptop they still won’t be able to peel off your Tor transport layer as it is running on a separate physical box.

Create a new (invisible) account

Legacy email accounts might be connected in various ways to other parts of your life—friends, hobbies, work. To communicate in secrecy, you will need to create new email accounts using Tor so that the IP address setting up the account is not associated with your real identity in any way.

Creating anonymous email addresses is challenging but possible.

Since you will leave a trail if you pay for private email services, you’re actually better off using a free web service. A minor hassle: Gmail, Microsoft, Yahoo, and others require you to supply a phone number to verify your identify. Obviously you can’t use your real cellphone number, since it may be connected to your real name and real address. You might be able to set up a Skype phone number if it supports voice authentication instead of SMS authentication; however, you will still need an existing email account and a prepaid gift card to set it up.

Some people think of burner phones as devices used only by terrorists, pimps, and drug dealers, but there are plenty of perfectly legitimate uses for them. Burner phones mostly provide voice, text, and e‑mail service, and that’s about all some people need.

However, purchasing a burner phone anonymously will be tricky. Sure, I could walk into Walmart and pay cash for a burner phone and one hundred minutes of airtime. Who would know? Well, lots of people would.

First, how did I get to Walmart? Did I take an Uber car? Did I take a taxi? These records can all be subpoenaed. I could drive my own car, but law enforcement uses automatic license plate recognition technology (ALPR) in large public parking lots to look for missing and stolen vehicles as well as people on whom there are outstanding warrants. The ALPR records can be subpoenaed.

Even if I walked to Walmart, once I entered the store my face would be visible on several security cameras within the store itself, and that video can be subpoenaed.

Creating anonymous email addresses is challenging but possible.

Okay, so let’s say I send a stranger to the store—maybe a homeless person I hired on the spot. That person walks in and buys the phone and several data refill cards with cash. Maybe you arrange to meet this person later away from the store. This would help physically distance yourself from the actual transaction.

Activation of the prepaid phone requires either calling the mobile operator’s customer service department or activating it on the provider’s website. To avoid being recorded for “quality assurance,” it’s safer to activate over the web. Using Tor over an open wireless network after you’ve changed your MAC address should be the minimum safeguards. You should make up all the subscriber information you enter on the website. For your address, just Google the address of a major hotel and use that. Make up a birth date and PIN that you’ll remember in case you need to contact customer service in the future.

After using Tor to randomize your IP address, and after creating a Gmail account that has nothing to do with your real phone number, Google sends your phone a verification code or a voice call. Now you have a Gmail account that is virtually untraceable. We can produce reasonably secure emails whose IP address—thanks to Tor—is anonymous (although you don’t have control over the exit nodes) and whose contents, thanks to PGP, can’t be read except by the intended recipient.

To keep this account anonymous you can only access the account from within Tor so that your IP address will never be associated with it. Further, you should never perform any internet searches while logged into that anonymous Gmail account; you might inadvertently search for something that is related to your true identity. Even searching for weather information could reveal your location.

As you can see, becoming invisible and keeping yourself invisible require tremendous discipline and perpetual diligence. But it is worth it. The most important takeaways are: First, be aware of all the ways that someone can identify you even if you undertake some but not all of the precautions I’ve described. And if you do undertake all these precautions, know that you need to perform due diligence every time you use your anonymous accounts. No exceptions.

Excerpted from The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data, Copyright © 2017 by Kevin D. Mitnick with Robert Vamosi. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.

 www.scamsfakes.com

www.crimefiles.net

www.freephonelink.net

www.policesearch.net

www.ispysite.com

Henry Sapiecha

Clinton Private Account Targeted in Russia-Linked Email Scam

This portion of an email from Hillary Rodham Clinton's private email account when she was secretary of state and released by the State Department on Sept. 30, 2015, shows an email Clinton received early in the morning on Aug. 3, 2011. The newly released emails show Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Clinton's private email account while she was secretary of state. It is unclear if she clicked on any attachment and exposed her account. Clinton received the infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets, over four hours early the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets, which would have allowed hackers to take control of their computers. Security researchers who analyzed the malicious software have said that infected computers would transmit information from victims to at least three server computers overseas, including one in Russia. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

This portion of an email from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private email account when she was secretary of state and released by the State Department on Sept. 30, 2015, shows an email Clinton received early in the morning on Aug. 3, 2011. The newly released emails show Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Clinton’s private email account while she was secretary of state. It is unclear if she clicked on any attachment and exposed her account. Clinton received the infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets, over four hours early the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets, which would have allowed hackers to take control of their computers. Security researchers who analyzed the malicious software have said that infected computers would transmit information from victims to at least three server computers overseas, including one in Russia. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to trick Hillary Rodham Clinton into infecting her computer systems while she was secretary of state, newly released emails show. It is unclear whether she was fooled into clicking any attachments to expose her account.

Clinton received the virus-riddled emails, disguised as speeding tickets from New York, over four hours early on the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets – and opening them would have allowed hackers to take over control of a victim’s computer.

Security researchers who analyzed the malicious software in September 2011 said that infected computers would transmit information from victims to at least three server computers overseas, including one in Russia. That doesn’t necessarily mean Russian intelligence or citizens were responsible.

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign, said: “We have no evidence to suggest she replied to this email or that she opened the attachment. As we have said before, there is no evidence that the system was ever breached. All these emails show is that, like millions of other Americans, she received spam.”

Practically every Internet user is inundated with spam or virus-riddled messages daily. But these messages show hackers had Clinton’s email address, which was not public, and sent her a fake traffic ticket from New York state, where she lives. Most commercial antivirus software at the time would have detected the software and blocked it.

The phishing attempts highlight the risk of Clinton’s unsecure email being pried open by foreign intelligence agencies, even if others also received the virus concealed as a speeding ticket from Chatham, New York. The email misspelled the name of the city, came from a supposed New York City government account and contained a “Ticket.zip” file that would have been a red flag.

Clinton has faced increasing questions over whether her unusual email setup amounted to a proper form of secrecy protection and records retention. The emails themselves – many redacted heavily before public release – have provided no shocking disclosures thus far and Clinton has insisted the server was secure.

During Clinton’s tenure, the State Department and other U.S. government agencies faced their own series of hacking attacks. U.S. counterterrorism officials have linked them to China and Russia. But the government has a large staff of information technology experts, whereas Clinton has yet to provide any information on who maintained her server and how well it was secured.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio told Fox News Channel on Wednesday, “The exposure of sensitive information to foreign intelligence agencies by communicating in an insecure manner is incompetent, it is malpractice, it’s inexcusable.”

The emails released Wednesday also show a Clinton confidant urging her boss and others in June 2011 not to “telegraph” how often senior officials at the State Department relied on their private email accounts to do government business because it could inspire hackers to steal information. The discussion never mentioned Clinton’s own usage of a private email account and server.

The exchange begins with policy chief Anne-Marie Slaughter lamenting that the State Department’s technology is “so antiquated that NO ONE uses a State-issued laptop and even high officials routinely end up using their home email accounts to be able to get their work done quickly and effectively.” She said more funds were needed and that an opinion piece might make the point to legislators.

Clinton said the idea “makes good sense,” but her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, disagreed: “As someone who attempted to be hacked (yes I was one), I am not sure we want to telegraph how much folks do or don’t do off state mail b/c it may encourage others who are out there.”

The hacking attempts were included in the 6,300 pages the State Department released, covering a period when U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring rocked American diplomacy.

New York State police warned as early as July 2011 about emails containing warnings of traffic tickets that actually contained computer viruses.

Clinton received five copies between 1:44 am and 5:26 am on Aug. 3, 2011. They appeared to come from “New York State — Department of Motor Vehicles,” warning that a car registered to Clinton was caught speeding “over 55 zone” on July 5. Clinton had no public events in Washington that day, following the July 4 holiday. The email instructed the recipient to “print out the enclosed ticker and send it to town court, Chatam Hall, PO Box 117.”

The former first lady and New York senator had maintained that nothing was classified in her correspondence, but the intelligence community has identified messages containing “top secret” information. Clinton had insisted that all of her work emails were being reviewed by the State Department, but Pentagon officials recently discovered a new chain of messages between Clinton and then-Gen. David Petraeus dating to her first days in office that she did not send to the State Department.

As part of Wednesday’s release, officials upgraded the classification level of portions of 215 emails, State Department spokesman John Kirby said. Almost all were “confidential,” the lowest level of classification. Three emails were declared “secret,” a mid-tier level for information that could still cause serious damage to national security, if made public.

“The information we upgraded today was not marked classified at the time the emails were sent,” Kirby stressed.

Source: Associated Press

ooo

Henry Sapiecha

ALL EMAILS SHOULD BE ENCRYPTED IT IS SAID, SO FIND OUT HOW & WHY HERE

Why We Should Encrypt Everyone’s Email as security

Ladar Levison is the owner of the encrypted email startup Lavabit. After Edward Snowden’s NSA document leaks last summer, Levison rebuffed government demands to hand over the email service’s private encryption keys—opting to shut it down instead. He spoke about his new project Dark Mail, online privacy, and how encrypting our email helps disassemble today’s unconstitutional surveillance networks.

Q

When we talk about email, how much of our online communications are truly private?

A

I think everybody today needs to assume that if they’re communicating electronically, somebody is listening. Over the last 20 years we’ve been communicating across the Internet with a level naïve innocence that has been lost forever.

One big issue is that today’s electronic communication systems have gotten so complex that they are all but impossible for private citizens to understand. And that’s because these systems have been built with layer upon layer of complexity. If any of those layers has a vulnerability, an organization with the access and resources of the NSA can exploit it to gain total control of the system. The only question is how difficult it is for them to do so.

Another issue is that while we have the encryption technology to protect email messages, the current state of endpoint security (meaning the security of your individual computer or device) is abysmal—almost laughable to the Tailored Access Operations unit which employs more than 1,000 engineers whose only mission is expanding their exploit catalog. If your device is compromised, it doesn’t matter how strong the encryption is, a snooper will simply steal the keys protecting your messages.

Q

Why should we be so concerned about keeping our email encrypted and private?

A

For one, privacy is a form of security and protection—an assurance that what we write won’t one day be used against us, to blackmail us into conducting some nefarious deed. I look to history and shudder to think of what Joseph McCarthy, Richard Nixon, or J. Edgar Hoover would have done with the surveillance capabilities of today.

One of our most basic rights as American citizens, as people, is the privacy of our papers—our thoughts in written form. Why should this right be forfeited simply because the thought was typed into a computer and stored in a cloud?

But the most important reason is this: By encrypting our email, we force a potential attacker to break into our devices if they want to read our private messages. That changes the game. Instead of sweeping up everyone’s communications wholesale, without much incremental effort, we force them to pick and choose specific targets. And this would be a huge step towards making unconstitutional surveillance obsolete

Q

Talk to us about Dark Mail, your newest project.

A

Dark Mail is really an effort to turn the world’s email dark—to make email encryption ubiquitous, universal, and automatic. The simplest explanation of what we’re doing is that we’re rewriting the protocols of email—the standard rules computers use for delivering email messages—so that messages are encrypted before they leave your computer and can’t be decrypted until they’ve reached the recipient’s computer. And because this is built into the system, there’s no cognitive burden. Grandma could use this—you don’t need to understand encryption or why it’s important. If someone can use email today, they will be able to use Dark Mail tomorrow.

Just to be clear, one important distinction is that Dark Mail is a technology—it’s not [an email] service. Our hope is that different email service providers will implement support for Dark Mail. In fact, we’ll be publishing the specifications and releasing the code as free software. That way, the community can help us find vulnerabilities and make Dark Mail even more secure. It’s even possible that others will take our design and improve on it. And if they do, more power to them.

Q

So how does Dark Mail work?

A

Dark Mail is built around something called asymmetric cryptography, in manner similar to [a piece of software called] PGP, which stands for Pretty Good Privacy. It involves two keys (think passwords) to work. You generate a public and a private key. You then give your public key to the world, so that anyone in the world can send you a message that has been encrypted using the public key. Once the message has been protected using a public key, only someone with the corresponding private key can unlock it. At least in theory, the only person with access to the corresponding private key is you.

Now all you need to do is protect it.

But Dark Mail is more complicated than simply taking PGP and making it automatic. For example, we’re working on making the Dark Mail key discovery process resistant to manipulation by bad guys with big budgets. Were also working on the metadata problem—or making it harder for an outsider to track when and with whom you’re communicating. Without that, we will lose our ability to associate freely. I know this from experience. Contacting the EFF shouldn’t make you a surveillance target.

Q

Is this type of encryption even legal?

A

Yes. If you go back to the early ‘90s, the person who wrote PGP, Phil Zimmermann, freely released his software to a handful of friends. Eventually PGP source code found its way onto the global Internet. For his trouble, Zimmermann was subjected to a 3-year criminal investigation, which would eventually be dropped and never result in charges against him. At the time, in 1991, any form of encryption that was strong enough to be considered unbreakable by the federal government was classified as a munition—as a weapon—and was subject to strict distribution controls.

In large part because of Zimmermann, those laws would get repealed, and the victory would become one of many battles that make up a period known as the Crypto Wars. Freedom would eventually prevail. We won the right to create and distribute software with strong encryption. All we need to do now is use that right.

Henry Sapiecha
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