Google Boondoggle With No Such Agency

spy-who-loved-meEllen Nakashima has a startling, but I guess unsurprising, article in this morning’s Washington Post on internet giant Google’s new partnership with the NSA:

Under an agreement that is still being finalized, the National Security Agency would help Google analyze a major corporate espionage attack that the firm said originated in China and targeted its computer networks, according to cybersecurity experts familiar with the matter. The objective is to better defend Google — and its users — from future attack.

Google and the NSA declined to comment on the partnership. But sources with knowledge of the arrangement, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the alliance is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google’s policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans’ online communications. The sources said the deal does not mean the NSA will be viewing users’ searches or e-mail accounts or that Google will be sharing proprietary data.

The article indicates Google initiated the matter by approaching the NSA after the recent discovery of intrusive attacks by Chinese interests last month, which is interesting in light of the fact Google made a point of publicly stating in 2008 they had never cooperated with the NSA on the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

Nakashima also notes that NSA is also soliciting involvement of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. You have to wonder exactly what the FBI and DHS are going to lend that NSA cannot if this is truly just technical advice, because neither agency is particularly known for its geeky brilliance with computers. You would have to wonder is this is not a step in the direction of the “cyber protection” program the government has been hinting at initiating for some time now.

More from Nakashima and the Post:

“As a general matter,” NSA spokeswoman Judi Emmel said, “as part of its information-assurance mission, NSA works with a broad range of commercial partners and research associates to ensure the availability of secure tailored solutions for Department of Defense and national security systems customers.”

Despite such precedent, Matthew Aid, an expert on the NSA, said Google’s global reach makes it unique.

“When you rise to the level of Google . . . you’re looking at a company that has taken great pride in its independence,” said Aid, author of “The Secret Sentry,” a history of the NSA. “I’m a little uncomfortable with Google cooperating this closely with the nation’s largest intelligence agency, even if it’s strictly for defensive purposes.”

Mr. Aid isn’t the only one a little uncomfortable with this new spirit of cooperation between the world’s most spooky governmental spy agency and the world’s most ubiquitous information technology and database company. And so the descent down the slippery slope picks up a little more speed.

(Image courtesy of SearchEngineWatch.com, a very nice resource by the way)

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    • bobschacht says:

      I came across Ixquick years ago, and have returned to it recently. There was a previous thread a week or two ago in which search engines came up, and it turns out that a number of Firepups prefer it.

      Bob in AZ

  1. BayStateLibrul says:

    Thanks for connecting the dots.

    How about “Pretty Boy” Brown’s kiss up to Google?

    “The running joke in the campaign is that when you go to [President Obama’s] Web site, it says, ‘Powered by Hope,'” said Rob Willington, Brown’s new media director, at a briefing Wednesday afternoon (hosted at Google’s D.C. headquarters, perhaps not surprisingly, though the Brown people said they’d been making similar presentations to conservative think tanks and groups around town). “With how much we used Google, you could say, ‘Powered by Google,’ for the Brown campaign.”

    http://www.salon.com/news/scott_brown/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2010/02/03/scott_brown_and_google

  2. Jim White says:

    Perhaps this is a good moment to mention the FireFox add-on “GoogleSharing” that is meant to “provide a level of anonymity that will prevent google from tracking your searches, movements, and what websites you visit”. I’ve been using it for a while and there seems to have been no effect on system performance.

  3. koshembos says:

    It’s quite a dog bites dog out there. China is a fascinating country, but it is also a dictatorship with your political prisoners package, censorship, etc. To start with, I would view Google partnership with No Such Agency to help out Google China as having shortcomings and advantages. Bush is gone, Obama is not Cheney and I hope for good.

  4. klynn says:

    Jim,

    Thanks for the link.

    I mentioned here, right after the Google episode, that I had a very weird day on the computer. I walked away to take the dog out and came back to have it look like someone was sitting at the computer going trough my history that AM. (Note: I had removed the smart mouse from the pad.)

    It appeared as though a ghost was sitting at the computer going through my hits and searches. Cursor moving around clicking on stuff.

    Let me note, we have a child studying Chinese in our home.

    I put the mouse back on the pad and started back to my document editing. About 20 minutes later, it stopped. FDL and EW were having a funky tubes day that same day as well.

    BTW, we had taken all precautions security-wise as soon as the Google episode happened and, we have a Mac.

    On one level, this article does not surprise me.

    • behindthefall says:

      That strikes me as **very** strange. As in, Red-Alert-pull-the-plug-out-of-the-wall strange.

      What did you do? What did you decide to change (if anything)? Anything on the system that you had activated at the time that you’ve now decided to ditch?

      I was asked the other day if it was possible for someone to rummage through the files on our computer, say, from outside the house, and I said, naah, that’s for the movies. Your experience makes me think that I was wrong. What now?

      • temptingfate says:

        If you are running Windows and IE with Javascript turned on and you don’t have serious virus and download support turned on then you are one click away from having your machine taken over. Often the attacker, from a compromised site, will shout to the heavens. The loudly expressive guys are somehow benefiting from the chance you will buy protection or perhaps ego. The ones you have to worry about are the ones that never utter a peep because they have more nefarious goals.

        Best plan is to avoid Windows. Second best plan is to get good virus protection. In either case ditch IE except where necessary and switch to Firefox and the NoScript plugin. Then only turn on Javascript for sites you know you can trust, like FDL.

        I use a Mac and Firefox though I also use Safari for a few sites.

        • behindthefall says:

          I use Opera and would uninstall IE in a moment if it weren’t insisted upon by the occasional site. Is AGV-Free considered effective?

          • temptingfate says:

            Not being the ultimate Windows expert I’d say that sounds like a good plan. I should have mentioned Opera but I tend to hide behind Firefox because I like their security plugins.

          • bobschacht says:

            IIRC IE was designed by Microsoft to be an *integral part* of its OS, so that IE includes proprietary routines that other programs (not microsoft) use. Consequently, if you really uninstall IE, you would also be crippling those other programs. Of course, IIRC this was partly the basis of the suit against Microsoft in Europe, which ultimately resulted in Microsoft unbundling those functions.

            I haven’t uninstalled IE; I just don’t use it unless I absolutely have to.

            Bob in AZ

            • behindthefall says:

              My reasoning, too. Hold a gun to my head and I’ll use it, but otherwise, it is as dormant as I can make it.

      • Watt4Bob says:

        I was asked the other day if it was possible for someone to rummage through the files on our computer, say, from outside the house, and I said, naah, that’s for the movies. Your experience makes me think that I was wrong. What now?

        When I first installed a wireless network at home, someone hacked my business laptop and installed a charming and harmless feature that displayed the name Steven in a little gray MS style message box that popped up every time I clicked my mouse or attempted to navigate using my mouse. I cleaned up the problem and considered it a gentle reminder to get my network secured.

        That was some years ago, and I’ve always felt very lucky to have learned that lesson in such a non-destructive manner.

          • Watt4Bob says:

            I’d ask around at the local Apple store to find someone who is experienced with security on the Mac. The Mac community is very nice that way and I’ve been successful at finding help quickly and affordibly through their employees.

            From your description, I’d say lot of security types would be fascinated to have a look at your problem.

      • klynn says:

        Before I started editing again, I did shut everything down, unplugged all to see if there was anything security-wise I should look at. (Also followed all of Rayne’s suggests that day.)

        I then turned everything on again checked all our security settings.

        A few people here were reporting funky things going on with the site that day and I mentioned what I had happen.

        We dumped all new downloads immediately and went back through to make sure our security settings were ok.

        We have a Mac, use Firefox and have Javascript off. (Thus the heightened concern when this happened.)

        We also bought a new mouse. All seems ok now.

    • Watt4Bob says:

      What you witnessed was/is an intrusion, a security breach.

      Let me note, we have a child studying Chinese in our home.

      My first guess would be that someone close-by has hacked your wireless connection/network because sophisticated hackers wouldn’t risk discovery by openly browsing your machine, but your Chinese language student might have visited a website that covertly installed a back-door access program on your computer, or your student clicked yes one too many times while distracted.

      It’s not too far-fetched to think the Chinese would be interested in knowing ahead of time, which American students are gaining Chinese language skills and tracking their education just in case it may be of advantage sometime in the future …

      … and then of course there’s ‘our side’s’ intelligence apparatus.

      I’d strongly advise finding some expert help to find and remove that back-door.

      When I first started dealing with virus infections on PCs, I routinely blamed the infections on sloppy behavior by users, and would lecture them about changing that behavior, but the subtlety and sophistication of the techniques now employed by those who would access/control our machines and networks is such that the whole idea of blame has become completely irrelevant.

      The Chinese are unrelenting in their efforts to leverage vulnerabilities in the virtual world, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the best in the world, after all how would we know?

      The NSA is not about to admit that they have no real defense against Chinese hackers and those responsible for out-sourcing IT work to China and India are not going to admit that their activities are responsible for an irresponsible and foolish technology transfer and the building of a cyber-crime/espionage capability that is being turned against us.

      I’m hoping that we havn’t seen the end of a safe internet, but everything I see tells me it’s all about to get really F***’d up.

      • hctomorrow says:

        Feh. The Internet was never safe, and never will be. No one’s in control. We certainly never were.

        I’m more worried about Eastern European gangs than Chinese hackers, but that’s because they target the end consumer and small websites. This series of attacks targeted large US corporations, probably for corporate espionage. In other words, businesses screwing other businesses. It’s a crime, sure. But it hardly seems worse than what Goldman Sachs does on a daily basis.

        Hell, Goldman probably ruins more companies than this before breakfast. On a slow day. During a flu epidemic.

        Nah wait, who am I kidding. They get to go first in line for flu shots, unlike the rest of us hoi polloi. Memory lapse, silly me.

        • Watt4Bob says:

          It’s not the threats that I can imagine that have me worried, it’s the threats that I can’t imagine, and because it’s part of my job, believe me, I can imagine stuff that most people can’t, don’t, or won’t.

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    This tells me that the Chinese activities are a LOT more successful and frequent than the government has been willing to admit. Google, as a culture, HATES the NSA and has been known to use their activities as examples of how NOT to do things.

    That they would deal with the devil says volumes about the amount of trouble google thinks it has.

    Boxturtle (Free Taiwan! Free Tibet! Free Walmart!)

    • Rayne says:

      I think there’s another issue here which isn’t coming through. Google is far more sophisticated than the U.S. gov’t in terms of specific technology; they may simply have found there are gross insufficiencies on the government’s side of the fence and they can get the help they need only if the government can catch up.

      I’ll point to the no-fly list and the case of the Christmas Underwear Bomber as an example; this guy would have been earmarked as a risk soon if the database used by counterterrorism worked as well as Google’s search software. It’s not just that there were some red flags on him, but the flags AND his name didn’t all match up.

      There was legislation yesterday voted on by a House Subcommittee on technology yesterday, including a mess of amendments, all focused on technology. If you listened to a portion of the vote, it would have become very clear very quickly that it’s not necessarily data which is an issue of concern, but the network and a lack of government involvement in the standardization of technology and in network security education which has contributed to the ease with which hostile entities can breach private and public resources.

      • WilliamOckham says:

        I’m with Rayne on this one. I’m also not sure that Google has that much to learn from the NSA on network security. The situations are so different I don’t see how what the NSA knows and does helps Google. Makes me wonder who is using whom in this dance.

        • bmaz says:

          And makes me wonder why exactly it is the government would be hot to trot. I still wonder, as I did last month, if the hackers are not finding their way into protected legal files and databases at Google and others that impinge on perceived national security. I guess it all could be that the government is concerned about keeping google healthy for the common citizen, but that is not usually their real priority…

          • hctomorrow says:

            Forget about keeping Google healthy for the common citizen, Bmaz. The government has a vested interest in keeping Google healthy a: for its shareholders and b: because Google is at the forefront of one of the few kinds of high tech the US still dominates. We’ve ceded, more or less, green energy technology to China; perhaps someone at the NSA thinks it’d be a good idea for us to keep our lead on information management.

            Enlightened self-interest would be a step up from the Bush era national security policies, at least.

      • joanneleon says:

        Rayne, I was thinking along those lines too – “who’s helping who?” (except I had a typo in my comment above and it came out as “who’s helping how”).

  6. joanneleon says:

    Weird. I’m just wondering what, exactly, they’re collaborating on. And who is helping how in this situation? These are random thoughts – not based on any inside knowledge of either organization.

    Did the fact that Google operates in China somehow give the Chinese a back door into other systems in the US? Did it become a “national security” issue? This can’t be only about Google mail accounts. I’m guessing that either the Google presence in China became a risk to the US, or that when the Chinese infiltrated Google’s systems, it became a threat to their entire business, and the only way to get to the culprits is through the federal govt., specifically the NSA. If they saw a real risk to their business, how far would they be willing to compromise their principles? (And gee, that’s one way to get them to cooperate, isn’t it?)

    My thoughts are all over the place on this one.

    Time for a new search engine? (I don’t use their mail) Would it matter?

    Google is also big into cloud computing. It’s one of the the ways they’re going to take over a lot of Microsoft’s traditional business. That means businesses using their applications and storing their data out their in the cloud.

  7. alank says:

    I’ve always assumed that Google had some connection with the federal government, receiving government backing from the start, even. It’s an extension of the the Census Bureau, after all.

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    Someone told me that google is a bit player in China, that there are several Chinese search engines that swamp the market. Does anyone know if that is accurate?

    • temptingfate says:

      Before the blow up they Google something like 35% of the search market in China.

      An interesting question is why Google got excited this time about the kinds of attacks that originate from China and Russia all the time. If one assumes they already had an alliance with the some agencies like the CIA and the Chinese had successfully determined that to be true by accessing their servers, then the issue might have more to do with the fact that Google couldn’t protect compromising information well enough.

      • eCAHNomics says:

        Thanks. That sounds like a larger percentage than my friend indicated, but it was a passing remark at a dinner party, so perhaps I misunderstood her.

      • Rayne says:

        We had a very extensive dialog in thread about this situation here at EW.

        The problem remains that other companies have contributed substantially to the security problem because of their own security problems, and the method of attack(s) apparently used these holes to compromise Google.

        Now imagine Google telling its userbase that it cannot permit any products generated between the early 1990s and 2009 created by either MSFT or Adobe to be used on its network…

        And now imagine yet another problem, that of Chinese nationals on H1-B visas who work for these and other software/networking companies.

        We might do well to ask why other mega-sized technology companies aren’t doing more transparently to fix the security problems.

        • temptingfate says:

          I’m all for them, or anyone else fixing their security problems. IE is a serious threat, Flash has always had some potential problems but they are a bit overblown in my opinion. So long as programmers completely avoid Flash’s cookie mechanism and write real apps using either Flex or at least Actionscript (ECMAscript) as opposed to “Flash” their code is not any more dangerous that Javascript and generally a lot less exposed. The exposure to older versions of the Flash plugin are fairly easy to deal with and most people are current because they want the latest and greatest.

          I also agree that employee exposure will always be a bigger threat than currently believed. That goes quadruply for outsourced projects.

          What I’m less in favor of is marriages between the NSA or CIA and private corporations. When the smart guys at Google say they’re stumped and need help from the gov the first question is what kind of help? The second is where does it stop? The third is how does another private company compete once they have black ops support? And the questions continue on from there.

          • Rayne says:

            You really need to do some more homework on the IE and Adobe problems. There’s more going on than just a tiny little Javascript error, or Google would have gone to Adobe and told them quietly they would block all their products as spam if it was just Adobe failing to lock down a puny bit of script. The silence from some of these big players which are far less open should also tell you a lot.

            Secondly, I did not read in that WaPo piece that Google was “stumped.” I suspect the problem is that the intelligence community hasn’t been particularly forthcoming about information which would have made private companies’ jobs’ easier. Ditto other private companies; do you really think either MSFT or Adobe are going to share one iota of info about their security problems with Google? Better to go to NSA and ask them for cooperation so that they can go through an intermediary with exposure of its own.

            • temptingfate says:

              I think you see me defending Windows, IE and Adobe you’re not looking very close. I use a Mac or Linux as my toys of choice and have said many a time the Windows and IE are not my recommendations for development or deployment. I never said this was a Javascript error because I have no idea what kinds of things brought this about, but Javascript as a way into IE via COM is a fairly standard trick. As for blocking Flash well, that would at a minimum entail excluding one of the most popular Flash sites around, YouTube which is owned by Google, so I’d guess there are plenty of reasons for Adobe and Google to have mutual self-disclosure as opposed to suicidal secret keeping.

              “Stumped” is a bit of artistic license (or perhaps sarcasm) related to the fact that the outward explanation appears insufficient. If you trust the NSA or the CIA as a neutral intermediary then more power to you.

            • robspierre says:

              According to McAfee and the several security websites I read from time to time, the Chinese Google intrusion was based on a zero-day (previously undisclosed) vulnerability in Internet Explorer, NOT in an Adobe product. The initial reports that pointed at Adobe were erroneous.

              Almost nothing protects against a zero-day attack. However, Internet Explorer’s history (many vulnerabilities, often tardily disclosed and generally slowly patched) make it the riskiest choice for many other kinds of attack, as does its position as the most widely used browser (it is thus the most popular target for exploits). That is why I use FireFox. FireFox has its share of vulnerabilities, but, since it is open source and broadly supported by the community, they are discovered and patched more quickly.

              The other steps you can take make it harder for someone to exploit your computer.

              Keep your operating system up to date on security patches. Have antivirus software if you use Windows.

              Turn off Javascript or use the FireFox plugin NoScript to disable script selectively. This makes transferring exploit software to your computer much harder.

              Have a firewall installed and know how it works.

              Use a non-Windows operating system–Mac OS X, Linux, Free BSD, or Open Solaris. Most exploits target the most-used OS, which is Windows. Also, the file system permissions on these OS complicate matters for a would-be intruder.

              • Rayne says:

                Adobe had a zero-day exploit which went unpatched for as long as six months (possibly longer, since first detection may not have been widely publicized). Because of the low profile Adobe maintains about patching, I’m not at all assured they are not part of the problem. You can blame whatever you like, but Google itself has not made a pronouncement in any significant detail about the nature of the exploits (plural) used.

                And then there’s last year’s comment by SANS about Adobe:

                Adobe Issues Critical Updates for Reader and Acrobat (August 3, 2009)
                Adobe has released updates for Reader and Acrobat on Windows, Mac, and Unix to address critical flaws related to Flash content. The vulnerabilities are being actively exploited. Users are encouraged to update to Adobe Reader 9.1.3 as soon as possible. Those already running Reader version 9.x can update to 9.1.3 with the automatic update function. Users who download Reader for Windows from the Adobe site should be aware that the version they receive is 9.1. If they download that version, they will still need to update to version 9.1.3. Windows and Mac users will need to download completely new versions of Adobe Acrobat.
                -http://www.h-online.com/security/Adobe-patches-vulnerability-in-Reader-and-Acrob
                at–/news/113910
                [Editor’s Note (Northcutt): I think organizations should avoid Adobe if possible. Adobe security appears to be out of control, and using their products seems to put your organization at risk. Try to minimize your attack surface. Limit the use of Adobe products whenever you can. ]

                Emphasis mine. The patch referred to in this SANS comment was not for the zero-day exploit; the patch for this exploit was allegedly pushed in mid-January, after a number of attacks were already noted.

                • robspierre says:

                  I’m not a huge fan of Adobe simply because of their business model and pricing sttructure. But this discussion started about an alleged vulnerability in the file PDF format, NOT about zero-day vulnerabilities in the Acrobat software. These are very different things.

                  Any application can have a zero-day vulnerability, by definition. “Zero-day” means that the vendor has no warning, because the bad guys are the first to find it.

                  That said, if you feel seriously threatened by Acrobat Reader, you can always read PDF files with other tools, such as Mac Preview and various freeware apps.

                  The Acrobat file format is relatively secure. To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing remotely executable in a PDF file except for embedded extras like JavaScript, Java applets, and Flash animations. None of these is executable in any strict sense: you can’t run them on their own. All of them have to run in an external application that interprets the code and executes it. So you can disable the interpreter functionality in the viewer that you choose to use. At that point, the viewer won’t execute anything in the file.

                  You can use standalone Acrobat Reader with zero vulnerability to zero-day exploits and other remote intrusions by simply disabling Acrobat’s ability to access the Internet like a browser. If there is no connection to the outside, the outside can’t get to the Reader to cause trouble. This also limits what any malignant JavaScript, applets, or Flash animations can do. None of these are particularly useful to a bad guy unless they can be used to download more powerful malware code over the internet.

                  No computer applications are 100% safe, by their nature. You can never offload your system security on your vendors. You need to decide which functionaliy is valuable enough to take reasonable risks. Anybody that says otherwise–or tells you that a particular vendor’s stuff should never be trusted–just wants to sell you something.

                  • Rayne says:

                    The point of the hacks is that they disable settings which block their access to the internet.

                    Once you grok that and how they do it, you’ll figure out there are many ways we’ve already been compromised.

          • robspierre says:

            As I remarked previously, I believe that NSA has a mandate to support encryption and security standards for US government and industry. The chances are that your bank uses NSA-developed criteria for deciding how the various parts of its data centers are protected. NSA also had much to do with the development of the commercial DES (Digital Encryption Standard) widely used in industry and, I believe, the SHA series of hashing algorythms.

            So in this sense private companies benefit equally from NSA’s work, much as they do from National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) work or from Weather service reports.

            There is reason to worry, though, when the same agency that develops civilian cyphers also spies on communications and breaks ciphers as its main job. NSA is widely suspected of covertly weakening DES encryption so that NSA supercomputers–and only NSA supercomputers–could crack it. They were also involved in the attempts to restrict public access to strong, public key crypto (look up the story of Phil Zimmerman and PGP).

            NSA used to be barred from espionage operations in the US, at least. Now, thanks to terror hysteria, that is no longer the case.

            • PJEvans says:

              I had a professor who said that people who did especially well in college-level cryptanalysis classes might find job offers appearing in their mail that they couldn’t easily refuse. (Note: this was in the early 1980s, before the Internet and email became common.)

          • Rayne says:

            I’m actually surprised that they don’t have a private network in place already. Wasn’t the aim of the fusion centers to share info between law enforcement entities? Why didn’t they build a private circuit between fusion centers and ISPs/network providers?

            Perfect example of a blindspot.

  9. moonwood says:

    Lets get all paranoid about very little information. The U.S. has an interest in understanding cyber attacks from anywhere. This place is becoming like a Lyndon LaRouche site.

    • canadianbeaver says:

      Government intrusion of any kind into people’s privacy is disgusting and should be illegal. And no, I don’t believe in the “if you’ve got nothing to hide” line of BS rightwingers always spit out. They always use the same excuse of security, and nobody ever finds out if it makes any diff whatsoever, because it’s a “matter of national security”.

  10. temptingfate says:

    Given how much information Google already has about their logged in regulars this story may be coming out because it is becoming more common knowledge. Recent stories, such as the one from POLITICO about CIA operatives moonlighting for business fits into this meme fairly well. The blurring of corporate and government probably being the reason the CIA is now allowing these stories to surface. There a laws that prohibit this kind of behavior for normal government employees but when the watchers want an exemption who’s going to stop them.

    Make no mistake, if the CIA felt it was in their “national interest” to keep these stories unprinted they would never see the light of day from the MSM. What the NSA and the CIA want kept secret will stay that way.

  11. ThingsComeUndone says:

    The article indicates Google initiated the matter by approaching the NSA after the recent discovery of intrusive attacks by Chinese interests last month, which is interesting in light of the fact Google made a point of publicly stating in 2008 they had never cooperated with the NSA on the Terrorist Surveillance Program.

    Nakashima also notes that NSA is also soliciting involvement of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. You have to wonder exactly what the FBI and DHS are going to lend that NSA cannot if this is truly just technical advice,

    This topic deserves multiple posts have the Righty Blogs noticed this story yet this could be something we both agree on. A topic that won’t make me feel icky cooperating with them.

  12. hctomorrow says:

    Well, I should hope that *some* federal agencies are involved by this point. Cybercrime is still crime, after all, even if perpetrated by foreign nationals.

  13. demi says:

    May I suggest if a reader doesn’t care for the posts here, there are two alternatives. Either don’t read them or write your own diary at the Seminal. See? Easy Peasy.

  14. LillithMc says:

    Yesterday in a small article in the Sacramento Bee some businesses were reporting that Chinese hackers were a serious problem and were successful in obtaining blueprints and industrial designs. The NSA reported a concern with a possible potential terrorist attack of some kind and the speculation it could be a cyber-attack.

  15. canadianbeaver says:

    Did a google search the other day and a popup came up asking if I wanted google to track my useage. Never had that before.

    • temptingfate says:

      I think they decided to admit that they have been doing that for quite a while. If they track your usage then they have a chance to tailor ads to your profile. Tailored ads via cookie tracking has been an Internet advertisers dream for quite a while.

  16. PJEvans says:

    Don’t go out on the internet without antivirus and firewall in place. Period.

    If you’re using a wireless connection, make sure it’s password-protected, and follow the guidelines for creating good passwords.

    Anything less is Not Enough.

    • bmaz says:

      Because the Obama Administration has been too busy reaffirming Bush/Cheney privacy invasions and Fourth Amendment eviscerations, torture and detention programs, bankster coddling, and selling out healthcare reform to get around to putting Canary in a quiet out of the way corner in the back of the office or getting rid of her completely.

      • bobschacht says:

        Before hanging the collar on Obama, I think it would be a great idea for everyone here to read Garry Wills’ new book, Bomb Power. Wills was on the Diane Rehm show this morning. Wills makes a pretty convincing argument that the Manhattan Project was the template for a dominant and dominating Executive Presidency, and that a lot that we discuss here will be very difficult to change without a stronger Congress and a more independent Supreme Court.

        Bob in AZ

        • bmaz says:

          Baloney. Obama ran on being the guy to fight for the change you are talking about and, instead, he has been exactly the opposite, fighting for the entrenched interests, executive power and big money at every opportunity. Maybe he can’t fix everything, but he could at least sure as hell not contribute further to the problem; yet that is exactly what Obama has willfully and wantonly done.

          • bobschacht says:

            Maybe Obama the candidate didn’t know how much he would be boxed in by the things Wills’ new book brings to light. Have you read the book? Or did you listen to the Diane Rehm show today where Wills was the guest?

            Bob in AZ

      • fatster says:

        I was hoping bmaz or other lawyers here would comment. Perhaps they don’t know enough about the guy, though bmaz did tidily answer my weary query about Canary. (Do I get a prize for all the rhyme?)

  17. jerryy says:

    “You have to wonder exactly what the FBI and DHS are going to lend that NSA cannot if this is truly just technical advice, because neither agency is particularly known for its geeky brilliance with computers.”

    DHS’ connection is through CERT http://www.us-cert.gov/ (the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team). CERT was one of the several agencies that got rolled into DHS after 911.

    The FBI may along for the ride in-order to file and follow through on criminal charges.

    p.s. Search for ‘hardening [insert your computer type]’ to get instructions for making life on the internet safer.

    https://my.tennessee.edu/portal/page?_pageid=40,39428&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

  18. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Help Google analyze”? In exchange for what? Better access to whatever servers and data they haven’t already hacked or been given access to. Fuller access to Google’s proprietary search engine s/w? Real time updates on “searches” of interest, with accompanying originating computer terminal data.

  19. JohnLopresti says:

    I sometimes think much of the problem with internet hacks would eventuate in something like a global IP forum rewrite of the basic protocols, dhcp, ospf might be involved in what seemed to be the topic in the prior abovelinked thread (*dynamic host configuration protocol*, *open shortest path first*). Another way I would look at securitizing the internet from, say, a Google perspective, would be in chip architecture planning. Although I avoided learning much of the coffeebean company*s syntax, somehow, I recall many early reviews of the potential for bugginess in the virtual machine paradigm. Laughably, I once attended a lecture by one of Google*s current employees who at the time was famous for some clock cycle robbing utils he used to create funny graphics for his prior employer*s OS; at one juncture in the codewriter*s talk he diverged, addressing the puzzlement in the audience as he launched into a discussion of isam (integrated sequential memory management) as a tool for economizing memory usage. He was right; he lost a lot of us in that part of the presentation. One of the attractions of nsa, I would imagine, would be a ready-made bank of Crays. Maybe this is simply an instance of Google*s ruminating a bit and conjecturing, hey, why buy Crays for securitizing and hack counteroffensives when Nsa already is in the biz? Plus, Nsa got the searchstrings after a Google court deal but not the static Ip locations associated with those strings. So, there is a symbiotic potential as well as a history of sharing between the two entities. As for modernizing IP itself, maybe it is a complicated process. In a way, I suspect Google needed to be a good citizen if the backdoor bmaz seemed to describe last time, accessing legal divulgation documents on Google machines as a passthru to the agencies receiving Google*s compliance replies, was part of what was going on in the google cn hacks. I think I read somewhere Obama*s outfit began very interested in modernizing scada systems (supervisory control and data acquisition), also a difficult initiative, though essential. Imagine a political tractor demonstration opening sluice valves by a hack of the Klamath water supply, kiling fish without the in pro per airing of reclamation district clients* grievances in the press as occurred in 2002. A jovial person once admitted to me that he wrote code for the y2k millenia math panic, saying he knew a lot of senior citizens who reintegrated with the workforce because of experience with Cobol, a language rarely taught in recent decades, and that many of those overtime hours in y2K made for some pretty nice enhancements to the retirement savings program. I think some of that scada stuff must have a cobol component even in these times, in some locales. The cloud issue people mentioned above is interesting. Google must have a lot of realestate in the cloud.

    • topcat says:

      I think Google’s problems arise from the fact that the hackers are using proxy machines to do their dirty work that can’t be traced back to the original source. In other words, the Chinese hackers are using a machine they control that appears to Google to be located somewhere other than the hacker’s location. Something similar to the Anonymizer.com site, only vastly larger and more geographically dispersed. Only the NSA, with it’s vast, high-bandwith capabilities and telecom connections, is able to trace the hackers back to the original source.

      If Google were smart, they would just block all suspicious IPs coming out of China, Taiwan, or any other suspicious place. This would involve service reductions, but who cares if the Chinese are undertaking malicious activity.

  20. joanneleon says:

    Aren’t you glad we outsourced our IT industry to companies in other countries?

    I’ve been ranting and warning about this for at least ten years. You’d be very surprised at the amount of access a low level programmer can have, especially to data bases.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Yep, and a good and growing chunk of that is to China, not India. What’s that old saw? If you owe the bank $100,000, they own you; when you owe them $100,000,000, you own the bank. Works with IT as much as anything else.

      What’s being outsourced is no longer databases, call centers and back-up systems. It is business processes, entire departments, R&D, manufacturing, s/w development, systems design and monitoring. US staff rarely have the depth or talent to monitor it effectively, let alone bring back such activities into the enterprise if the outsourced firm is no longer desirable. Outsourced contracts rarely have the necessary terms – they are too onerous and unfriendly to negotiate – and more rarely are enforced.

      Management’s head-in-the-sand approach is very like the banksters’ in relation to house prices and ridiculous debt-to-equity (or capital) ratios: No one could have predicted that house prices could ever drop.

  21. fatster says:

    The guy’s throat is missing.

    “The family of a former Gitmo detainee are still waiting years later for answers regarding the events leading up to their son’s death. Hope that a second autopsy would provide those answers has been at a standstill as the doctor who performed the autopsy waits for U.S. officials to respond to a request for the return of the deceased’s missing throat, a request the Pentagon now appears to be denying was ever made.”

  22. JohnJ says:

    Don’t underestimate the NSA’s abilities in computing. In the very early 80s I helped set up a mainframe for NSA that was designed to use universal speaker voice recognition software for use on the trans-Atlantic cable. This was the year the PC came out with 128k and a cassette tape storage device.

    A software company I worked for ~20 years ago announced and staffed a project to do the same thing and shut down within a month for some strange reason….(three guesses).

    I was watching what was on a computer screen from a distance in 1980.

    The Gov may be inept at setting up internal everyday computer systems (too much graft and cronyism in purchasing), but NSA has always been on top of invading and intercepting.

    • bmaz says:

      It is DHS and FBI’s mastery I am leery of, not NSA. Proactive setting up of technology for the future is just not in FBI or DHS skill sets; NSA, sure.

      • Watt4Bob says:

        I was an accidental observer of a few projects meant to move private businesses from piles of paper to computer systems over the last 20 years, in each case there was tremendous resistance to the move because the principals in the business understood that if the data were on a computer it might be accessible to people outside of their family.

        In one case I was aware of, three separate attempts that actually reached the point of migration to a new system were abandoned, in each case due to fear that some outsider might actually be able to analyze their business activities via their new system.

        These people paid for, and cooperated in designing and testing these systems only to baulk at actually moving their business onto the new platform at the last minute.

        It’s those paranoid family businesses I think of when I hear the FBI can’t manage to get itself a 21st Century computer system, or the FBI can’t manage to communicate with the CIA or now the DHS.

        I think they’re leery of leaving any sort of trail that can’t be shredded.

        • Sara says:

          “It’s those paranoid family businesses I think of when I hear the FBI can’t manage to get itself a 21st Century computer system, or the FBI can’t manage to communicate with the CIA or now the DHS.”

          According to Cowleen Rowley, much of the FBI’s problem, which will only be cured when a generation of agents retires, is gender based. It is considered unmanly to know how to type (or Keyboard), and status in the FBI hierarchy can be very accurately measured by what percentage of a full time equivalent secretary you can command. Agents still “write” reports by dictating them — low status into a machine, then handed off to a shared secretary to edit to standard form, and print out — higher status agents dictate to a shorthand taking personal secretary, who transcribes and submits for corrections/approval. The FBI does have many highly competent IT technicians, but they are not field agents — they assist field agents by developing technical evidence. They are on a par with the lab types who process fingerprints and other crime scene specialists, and make matches.

          What Rowley claims is born out in Amy Zegart’s study of the post 9/11 FBI Culture in “Spying Blind.” Zegart doesn’t find the problem in the gender aspects of culture specifically, but she makes a very detailed case that the post 9/11 augmentations of the FBI budget have only purchased ill thought through add-on’s that poorly integrate into any sort of system, all because the leadership — agency, DOJ, and Congress is incapable of pressing concerns about the house culture of the agency.

        • PJEvans says:

          ON the other hand, I woeked at a business that was moving its paper-based inventory system to a computer-based system. Their problem was that they wanted the computerized system to work in exactly the same way as the paper system – and it was very, very difficult to achieve. (It didn’t reduce the paper use by much, either.)

          I would have told them to think about what made sense: this operation is really two things, one of which is practically identical to this other operation. Split the one, and combine the practically-identical parts, and make your life much easier.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The FBI has certainly wasted billions in attempts to put right its many computer systems that don’t speak to each other, let alone to other armed federal agencies. It will learn little from Google, except how better to access its data in ongoing “investigations”, most likely through the help of NSA or CIA. It would be lovely if Congress were to inquire just how deeply these agencies have penetrated into domestic “criminal investigations”.

  23. robspierre says:

    My motto is that a diagnoses of paranoia does not prove that they are NOT out to get me, and I’ve been very concerned about the potential abuses of databases and datamines for more than a decade. That said, I wouldn’t freak out too much about NSA involvement in the Google investigation. Assisting with commercial computer security and encryption standards has long been part of their mandate.

    So, while NSA people have undoubtedly abused their involvement at times (notably in attempts to promote cyphers that they can crack), their involvement is not, on its own, suspcious in this case.

  24. Rayne says:

    Here’s a theory about the hack(s) which Marc Ambinder reports.

    This now makes perfect sense to me why GOOG got NSA involved — it’s now about the people network, not just the communications network.

    Frankly should be hearing about Facebook’s engagement with NSA, but I now think the change in privacy settings over the last month might have been the flag and not a public pronouncement.