Computer and network surveillance
Computer and network surveillance is the monitoring of computer activity, of data stored on a hard drive, or being transferred over computer networks such as the Internet. The monitoring is often done surreptitiously and may be done by or at the behest of governments, by corporations, criminal organizations, or individuals. It may or may not be legal and may or may not require authorization from a court or other independent agency.
Computer and network surveillance programs are widespread today, and almost all Internet traffic is or could potentially be monitored for clues to illegal activity.
Surveillance is very useful to governments and law enforcement to maintain social control, recognize and monitor threats, and prevent/investigate criminal activity. With the advent of programs such as the Total Information Awareness program, technologies such as high speed surveillance computers and biometrics software, and laws such as the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act, governments now possess an unprecedented ability to monitor the activities of citizens.
However, many civil rights and privacy groups, such as Reporters Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed concern that with ever increasing surveillance of citizens we will end up in a mass surveillance society, with limited political and/or personal freedoms. Fears such as this have led to numerous lawsuits such as Hepting v. AT&T. The hacktivist group Anonymous has hacked into government websites in protest of what it considers "draconian surveillance".
A visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet.
The vast majority of computer surveillance involves the monitoring of data and traffic on the Internet. In the United States for example, under the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act, all phone calls and broadband internet traffic (emails, web traffic, instant messaging, etc.) are required to be available for unimpeded real-time monitoring by Federal law enforcement agencies.
Packet capture (also sometimes referred to as “packet sniffing”) is the monitoring of data traffic on a computer network. Computers communicate over the Internet by breaking up messages (emails, images, videos, web pages, files, etc.) into small chunks called "packets", which are routed through a network of computers, until they reach their destination, where they are assembled back into a complete "message" again. Packet Capture Appliance intercepts these packets as they are travelling through the network, in order to examine their contents using other programs. A packet capture is an information gathering tool, but not an analysis tool. That is it gathers "messages" but it does not analyze them and figure out what they mean. Other programs are needed to perform traffic analysis and sift through intercepted data looking for important/useful information. Under the Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act all U.S. telecommunications providers are required to install packet sniffing technology to allow Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept all of their customers' broadband Internet and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) traffic.
There is far too much data gathered by these packet sniffers for human investigators to manually search through all of it. So automated Internet surveillance computers sift through the vast amount of intercepted Internet traffic, and filter out and report to human investigators those bits of information which are "interesting"—such as the use of certain words or phrases, visiting certain types of web sites, or communicating via email or chat with a certain individual or group. Billions of dollars per year are spent, by agencies such as the Information Awareness Office, NSA, and the FBI, to develop, purchase, implement, and operate systems which intercept and analyze all of this data, and extract only the information which is useful to law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Similar systems are now operated by Iranian secret police to identify and suppress dissidents. All required hardware and software has been allegedly installed by German Siemens AG and Finnish Nokia.
Corporate surveillance of computer activity is very common. The data collected is most often used for marketing purposes or sold to other corporations, but is also regularly shared with government agencies. It can be used as a form of business intelligence, which enables the corporation to better tailor their products and/or services to be desirable by their customers. Or the data can be sold to other corporations, so that they can use it for the aforementioned purpose. Or it can be used for direct marketing purposes, such as targeted advertisements, where ads are targeted to the user of the search engine by analyzing their search history and emails (if they use free webmail services), which is kept in a database.
For instance, Google, the world's most popular search engine, stores identifying information for each web search. An IP address and the search phrase used are stored in a database for up to 18 months. Google also scans the content of emails of users of its Gmail webmail service, in order to create targeted advertising based on what people are talking about in their personal email correspondences. Google is, by far, the largest Internet advertising agency—millions of sites place Google's advertising banners and links on their websites, in order to earn money from visitors who click on the ads. Each page containing Google advertisements adds, reads, and modifies "cookies" on each visitor's computer. These cookies track the user across all of these sites, and gather information about their web surfing habits, keeping track of which sites they visit, and what they do when they are on these sites. This information, along with the information from their email accounts, and search engine histories, is stored by Google to use to build a profile of the user to deliver better-targeted advertising.
The United States government often gains access to these databases, either by producing a warrant for it, or by simply asking. The Department of Homeland Security has openly stated that it uses data collected from consumer credit and direct marketing agencies for augmenting the profiles of individuals that it is monitoring.
In addition to monitoring information sent over a computer network, there is also a way to examine data stored on a computer's hard drive, and to monitor the activities of a person using the computer. A surveillance program installed on a computer can search the contents of the hard drive for suspicious data, can monitor computer use, collect passwords, and/or report back activities in real-time to its operator through the Internet connection.
There are multiple ways of installing such software. The most common is remote installation, using a backdoor created by a computer virus or trojan. This tactic has the advantage of potentially subjecting multiple computers to surveillance. Viruses often spread to thousands or millions of computers, and leave "backdoors" which are accessible over a network connection, and enable an intruder to remotely install software and execute commands. These viruses and trojans are sometimes developed by government agencies, such as CIPAV and Magic Lantern. More often, however, viruses created by other people or spyware installed by marketing agencies can be used to gain access through the security breaches that they create.
Another method is "cracking" into the computer to gain access over a network. An attacker can then install surveillance software remotely. Servers and computers with permanent broadband connections are most vulnerable to this type of attack. Another source of security cracking is employees giving out information or users using brute force tactics to guess their password.
One can also physically place surveillance software on a computer by gaining entry to the place where the computer is stored and install it from a compact disc, floppy disk, or thumbdrive. This method shares a disadvantage with hardware devices in that it requires physical access to the computer.
Social network analysis
One common form of surveillance is to create maps of social networks based on data from social networking sites as well as from traffic analysis information from phone call records such as those in the NSA call database, and internet traffic data gathered under CALEA. These social network "maps" are then data mined to extract useful information such as personal interests, friendships & affiliations, wants, beliefs, thoughts, and activities.
Many U.S. government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are currently investing heavily in research involving social network analysis. The intelligence community believes that the biggest threat to the U.S. comes from decentralized, leaderless, geographically dispersed groups. These types of threats are most easily countered by finding important nodes in the network, and removing them. To do this requires a detailed map of the network.
Jason Ethier of Northeastern University, in his study of modern social network analysis, said the following of the Scalable Social Network Analysis Program developed by the Information Awareness Office:
The purpose of the SSNA algorithms program is to extend techniques of social network analysis to assist with distinguishing potential terrorist cells from legitimate groups of people ... In order to be successful SSNA will require information on the social interactions of the majority of people around the globe. Since the Defense Department cannot easily distinguish between peaceful citizens and terrorists, it will be necessary for them to gather data on innocent civilians as well as on potential terrorists.—Jason Ethier
Monitoring from a distance
It has been shown that it is possible to monitor computers from a distance, with only commercially available equipment, by detecting the radiation emitted by the CRT monitor. This form of computer surveillance, known as TEMPEST, involves reading electromagnetic emanations from computing devices in order to extract data from them at distances of hundreds of meters.
IBM researchers have also found that, for most computer keyboards, each key emits a slightly different noise when pressed. The differences are individually identifiable under some conditions, and so it's possible to log key strokes without actually requiring logging software to run on the associated computer.
Policeware is software designed to police citizens by monitoring discussion and interaction of its citizens. Within the U.S., Carnivore was a first incarnation of secretly installed e-mail monitoring software installed in Internet service providers' networks to log computer communication, including transmitted e-mails. Magic Lantern is another such application, this time running in a targeted computer in a trojan style and performing keystroke logging. Oasis, software developed by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), is designed for converting intercepted audio into searchable text. CIPAV, deployed by FBI, is a spyware/trojan allegedly designed for identification of a computer.
The "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act" (CBDTA) was a bill proposed in the United States Congress. CBDTPA was known as the "Security Systems and Standards Certification Act" (SSSCA) while in draft form, and was killed in committee in 2002. Had CBDTPA become law, it would have prohibited technology that could be used to read digital content under copyright (such as music, video, and e-books) without Digital Rights Management (DRM) that prevented access to this material without the permission of the copyright holder.
Surveillance as an aid to censorship
Surveillance and censorship are different. Surveillance can be preformed without censorship, but it is harder to engage in censorship without some form of surveillance. And even when surveillance does not lead directly to censorship, the widespread knowledge or belief that a person, their computer, or their use of the Internet is under surveillance can lead to self-censorship.
In March 2013 Reporters Without Borders issued a Special report on Internet surveillance that examines the use of technology that monitors online activity and intercepts electronic communication in order to arrest journalists, citizen-journalists, and dissidents. The report includes a list of "State Enemies of the Internet", Bahrain, China, Iran, Syria, and Vietnam, countries whose governments are involved in active, intrusive surveillance of news providers, resulting in grave violations of freedom of information and human rights. Computer and network surveillance is on the increase in these countries. The report also includes a second list of "Corporate Enemies of the Internet", Amesys (France), Blue Coat Systems (U.S.), Gamma (UK and Germany), Hacking Team (Italy), and Trovicor (Germany), companies that sell products that are liable to be used by governments to violate human rights and freedom of information. Neither list is exhaustive and they will be expanded in the coming months.
Protection of sources is no longer just a matter of journalistic ethics; it increasingly also depends on the journalist’s computer skills and all journalists should equip themselves with a “digital survival kit” if they are exchanging sensitive information online or storing it on a computer or mobile phone. And individuals associated with high profile rights organizations, dissident, protest, or reform groups are urged to take extra precautions to protect their online identities.
- Anonymizer, a software system that attempts to make network activity untraceable
- Computer surveillance in the workplace
- Differential privacy, a method to maximize the accuracy of queries from statistical databases while minimizing the chances of violating the privacy of individuals.
- Cyber spying
- ECHELON, a signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection and analysis network operated on behalf of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, also known as AUSCANNZUKUS and Five Eyes
- GhostNet, a large-scale cyber spying operation discovered in March 2009
- Mass surveillance
- List of government surveillance projects
National Security Agency surveillance
Map of global NSA data collection
- Surveillance by the United States government:
- 2013 mass surveillance disclosures, reports about NSA and its international partners' mass surveillance of foreign nationals and U.S. citizens
- Bullrun (code name), a highly classified NSA program to preserve its ability to eavesdrop on encrypted communications by influencing and weakening encryption standards, by obtaining master encryption keys, and by gaining access to data before or after it is encrypted either by agreement, by force of law, or by computer network exploitation (hacking)
- Carnivore, a U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation system to monitor email and electronic communications
- COINTELPRO, a series of covert, and at times illegal, projects conducted by the FBI aimed at U.S. domestic political organizations
- Communications Assistance For Law Enforcement Act
- Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier (CIPAV), a data gathering tool used by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Dropmire, a secret surveillance program by the NSA aimed at surveillance of foreign embassies and diplomatic staff, including those of NATO allies
- Magic Lantern, keystroke logging software developed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Mass surveillance in the United States
- NSA call database, a database containing metadata for hundreds of billions of telephone calls made in the U.S.
- NSA warrantless surveillance (2001–07)
- NSA whistleblowers: William Binney, Thomas Andrews Drake, Mark Klein, Thomas Tamm, Russ Tice
- Spying on United Nations leaders by United States diplomats
- Stellar Wind (code name), code name for information collected under the President's Surveillance Program
- Terrorist Surveillance Program, an NSA electronic surveillance program
- Total Information Awareness, a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
- TEMPEST, codename for studies of unintentional intelligence-bearing signals which, if intercepted and analyzed, may disclose the information transmitted, received, handled, or otherwise processed by any information-processing equipment
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- Albrechtslund, Anders (March 3, 2008). "Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance". First Monday 13 (3). Retrieved March 14, 2009.
- Fuchs, Christian (2009). Social Networking Sites and the Surveillance Society. A Critical Case Study of the Usage of studiVZ, Facebook, and MySpace by Students in Salzburg in the Context of Electronic Surveillance. Salzburg and Vienna: Forschungsgruppe Unified Theory of Information. ISBN 978-3-200-01428-2. Retrieved March 14, 2009.
- Ethier, Jason (27 May 2006). "Current Research in Social Network Theory". Northeastern University College of Computer and Information Science. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
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- "Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act", U.S. Senate bill S.2048, 107th Congress, 2nd session, 21 March 2002. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
- "Censorship is inseparable from surveillance", Cory Doctorow, The Guardian, 2 March 2012
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