1981 (age 36–37)|
San Francisco, California, U.S.
|Residence||Washington, DC, United States|
James Madison University ('02)|
Johns Hopkins University ('05)
Indiana University ('12)
|Occupation||Researcher and activist|
|Known for||Security and privacy activism|
Christopher Soghoian (born 1981) is a privacy researcher and activist. He is currently working for Senator Ron Wyden as the senator’s Senior Advisor for Privacy & Cybersecurity. From 2012 to 2016, he was the principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Soghoian, who holds British and US nationality, received a B.S. from James Madison University (Computer Science; 2002), a Masters from Johns Hopkins University (Security Informatics; 2005), and a PhD from Indiana University (Informatics; 2012). His dissertation focused on the role that third-party internet and telecommunications service providers play in facilitating law enforcement surveillance of their customers.
Soghoian is a Visiting Fellow at Yale Law School's Information Society Project and a TED Senior Fellow. He was previously an Open Society Foundations Fellow and a Student Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.
Government surveillance research and activism
Soghoian's research and advocacy is largely focused on government surveillance. His research has shed significant light on the use of sophisticated surveillance technologies by US law enforcement agencies, exposing such techniques to public debate and criticism.
In an August, 2013 presentation at the hacker conference DEF CON, Soghoian highlighted the existence of a dedicated FBI team that delivers malware to the computers and mobile devices of surveillance targets. In his presentation, Soghoian stated that he discovered the team by reading heavily redacted government documents and by looking at the profiles of ex-FBI contractors on the social network website LinkedIn. In October, 2014, Soghoian called attention to the fact that the FBI had, in 2007, impersonated the Associated Press in an effort to deliver malware to a teenager in Washington State who had threatened to bomb his high school. This act of deception was strongly condemned by leading news organizations, including by the General Counsel of the Associated Press.
|on YouTube, Christopher Soghoian, TED talks, March 5, 2014|
In a February, 2012, public speech, Soghoian criticized the commercial market for so called zero-day security vulnerabilities, a topic which, until then, had yet to receive significant attention from the mainstream press. One month later, Soghoian was quoted by Forbes, in a lengthy article about the zero day market, describing the firms and individuals who sell software exploits as “the modern-day merchants of death” selling “the bullets of cyberwar.” Over the next several years, several major media outlets published their own front-page stories on the industry, often with quotes from Soghoian criticizing those providing such hacking software to governments.
In December 2009, while an employee of the Federal Trade Commission, Soghoian secretly audio recorded a closed-door surveillance industry conference. The agency's inspector general opened an investigation into Soghoian's conduct, and he was subsequently let go from the FTC. In the recording, an executive from Sprint Nextel revealed that the company had created a special website through which law enforcement agents can obtain GPS information on subscribers and that the website had been used to process 8 million requests during the previous year. That recording was subsequently cited by Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in U.S. v. Pineda-Moreno, in support of his view that "1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it's here at last."
In June 2009, Soghoian co-authored an open letter to Google with 37 prominent security and privacy experts, urging the company to protect the privacy of its customers by enabling HTTPS encryption by default for Gmail and its other cloud based services. In January 2010, Google enabled HTTPS by default for users of Gmail, and subsequently for other products, including search. According to Google, it was already considering HTTPS by default. Soghoian has in recent years continued his HTTPS advocacy, calling on news media, law firms, government agencies and other organizations to encrypt their own websites.
Consumer privacy research and activism
In May 2011, Soghoian was approached by public relations firm Burson-Marsteller and asked to write an anti-Google op-ed, criticizing the company for privacy issues associated with its social search product. Soghoian refused, and instead published the email conversation. A subsequent investigation by journalists revealed that the PR firm, which had refused to identify its client to Soghoian, had been retained by Facebook.
In October 2010, Soghoian filed a complaint with the FTC, in which he claimed that Google was intentionally leaking search queries to the sites that users visited after they clicked on a link from the search results page. Two weeks later, a law firm filed a class action lawsuit against Google for this practice. The lawsuit extensively quoted from Soghoian's FTC complaint. In October 2011, Google stopped leaking search queries to the sites that users visited, and then in 2015, the company settled the search query leakage class action lawsuit for 8.5 million dollars.
Between 2009 and 2010, he worked for the US Federal Trade Commission as the first ever in-house technical advisor to the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection. While at the FTC, he assisted with investigations of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Netflix.
Boarding pass security
Soghoian first gained public attention in 2006 as the creator of a website that generated fake airline boarding passes. On October 26, 2006, Soghoian created a website that allowed visitors to generate fake boarding passes for Northwest Airlines. While users could change the boarding document to have any name, flight number or city that they wished, the generator defaulted to creating a document for Osama Bin Laden.
Soghoian claimed that his motivation for the website was to focus national attention on the ease with which a passenger could evade the no-fly lists. Information describing the security vulnerabilities associated with boarding pass modification had been widely publicized by others before, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and security expert Bruce Schneier.
On October 27, 2006, then-Congressman Edward Markey called for Soghoian's arrest. At 2 am on October 28, 2006, his home was raided by agents of the FBI to seize computers and other materials. Soghoian's Internet Service Provider voluntarily shut down the website, after it received a letter from the FBI claiming that the site posed a national security threat. On October 29, 2006, Congressman Markey issued a revised statement stating that Soghoian should not go to jail, and that instead, the Department of Homeland Security should "put him to work" to fix the boarding pass security flaws. The FBI closed its criminal investigation in November 2006 without filing any charges, as did the TSA in June 2007.
- Brown, David. FBI foils student's air scam site The Times November 3, 2006
- Soghoian, Christopher (August 1, 2012). "The Spies We Trust: Third Party Service Providers and Law Enforcement Surveillance" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-12-23.
- Valentino-DeVries, Jennifer (August 3, 2013). "FBI Taps Hacker Tactics to Spy on Suspects". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Nakashima, Ellen (October 28, 2014). "FBI lured suspect with fake Web page, but may have leveraged media credibility". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Grygiel, Chris (November 7, 2014). "FBI says it impersonated AP reporter in 2007 case". Associated Press. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Naraine, Ryan (February 16, 2012). "'0-day exploit middlemen are cowboys, ticking bomb'". ZDNet. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Greenberg, Andy (March 23, 2012). "Shopping For Zero-Days: A Price List For Hackers' Secret Software Exploits". Forbes. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Nakashima, Ellen (October 7, 2014). "The ethics of Hacking 101". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Perlroth, Nicole (July 13, 2013). "Nations Buying as Hackers Sell Flaws in Computer Code". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Hill, Kashmir (December 6, 2010). "FTC Hires Hacker to Help With Privacy Issues. It Didn't Last". Forbes.
- Zetter, Kim (December 1, 2009). "Feds 'Pinged' Sprint GPS Data 8 Million Times Over a Year". Wired News. Retrieved 2010-05-15.
- United States v. Pineda-Moreno, 617 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir. 2010).
- Soghoian, Christopher (June 16, 2009). "An open letter to Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt". Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- Helft, Miguel (June 16, 2009). "Gmail to Get More Protection From Snoops". The New York Times – Bits Blog. Retrieved 2009-06-20.
- Schillace, Sam (January 12, 2010). "Default HTTPS Access For Gmail". The Official Gmail Blog. Retrieved 2010-05-15.
- Braga, Matthew (October 1, 2014). "The Fight for HTTPS". Fast Company. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Helft, Miguel (May 13, 2011). "Facebook, Foe of Anonymity, Is Forced to Explain a Secret". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- Singel, Ryan (May 13, 2011). "Dropbox Lied to Users About Data Security, Complaint to FTC Alleges". Wired News. Retrieved 2011-07-17.
- DeVries, Jenifer Valentino (October 7, 2010). "Former FTC Employee Files Complaint Over Google Privacy". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
- Krazit, Tom (October 26, 2010). "Lawsuit targets Google over Web referrals". CNET.
- Sullivan, Danny (September 6, 2013). "Google's Plan To Withhold Search Data & Create New Advertisers". Search Engine Land.
- Davis, Wendy (April 3, 2015). "Google's $8.5 Million Data-Leak Settlement Wins Approval". MediaPost.
- Zetter, Kim (August 17, 2009). "Outspoken Privacy Advocate Joins FTC". Wired.com. Retrieved 2009-11-20.
- Soghoian, Christopher (October 26, 2006). "Chris's NWA Boarding Pass Generator". Retrieved 2007-03-05.
- Schumer, Charles E. (February 13, 2005). "Schumer reveals new gaping hole in air security". Archived from the original on November 21, 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- Schumer, Charles E. (April 9, 2006). "Schumer Reveals: In Simple Steps Terrorists Can Forge Boarding Pass And Board Any Plane Without Breaking The Law!". Archived from the original on June 28, 2007. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- Schneier, Bruce (August 15, 2003). "Flying on Someone Else's Airplane Ticket". Crypto-Gram. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- Singel, Ryan (October 27, 2006). "Congressman Ed Markey Wants Security Researcher Arrested". Wired News. Retrieved 2012-12-24.
- Krebs, Brian (November 1, 2006). "Student Unleashes Uproar With Bogus Airline Boarding Passes". Washington Post. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- Singel, Ryan (November 29, 2007). "Is A Gov Shutdown of a Website Without A Court Order Illegal? Supreme Court Suggests Yes". Wired News. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- Kantor, Andrew (November 2, 2006). "Simple tricks stir government's hysteria". USA Today. Retrieved 2014-11-14.
- "IU Student, Focus of FBI Probe, Speaks Out". TheIndyChannel.com. Retrieved 2006-11-30.
- Kane, David (June 6, 2007). "Warning Notice, page 1". Transportation Security Administration. Retrieved 2007-07-23.
- Kane, David (June 6, 2007). "Warning Notice, page 2". Transportation Security Administration. Retrieved 2007-07-23.
- (in French) Yves Eudes, Hacker vaillant rien d'impossible, Le Monde, November 17, 2012, pp. 36–37. Also published in Le Temps, Saturday December 8, 2012, pp. 26–27
- Glenn Fleishman, A knight in digital armour, The Economist, September 1, 2012
- Mike Kessler, The Pest Who Shames Companies Into Fixing Security Flaws, Wired, November 23, 2011
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