Exclusive: HealthCare.gov Users Warn of Security Risk, Breach of Privacy

Exclusive: HealthCare.gov Users Warn of Security Risk, Breach of Privacy

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November 2, 2013 at 7:41 pm

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Justin Hadley logged on to HealthCare.gov to evaluate his insurance options after his health plan was canceled. What he discovered was an apparent security flaw that disclosed eligibility letters addressed to individuals from another state.

“I was in complete shock,” said Hadley, who contacted Heritage after becoming alarmed at the breach of privacy.

Hadley, a North Carolina father, buys his insurance on the individual market. His insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, directed him to HealthCare.gov in a cancellation letter he received in September.

After multiple attempts to access the problem-plagued website, Hadley finally made it past the registration page Thursday. That’s when he was greeted with downloadable letters about eligibility — for two people in South Carolina. (Screenshot below.)

Capture 1

The letters, dated October 8, acknowledge receipt of an application to the Health Insurance Marketplace and the eligibility of family members to purchase health coverage. One of the letters was addressed to Thomas Dougall, a lawyer from Elgin, SC.

Hadley shared a screenshot and copy of the letter with redacted personal information.

Capture 2

Hadley wrote to Heritage on Thursday night and also contacted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which administers HealthCare.gov, as well as elected officials in his state. He has yet to hear back from HHS, even though HealthCare.gov still displays the personal information of the South Carolina residents on his account.

Hadley reached out to Dougall on Friday to notify him of the breach. Dougall, who spoke to Heritage this evening, said he was evaluating health care options in early October. Dougall said he was able to register on HealthCare.gov, but decided not to sign up for insurance.

“The plans they offered were grossly expensive and didn’t provide the level of care I have now,” he said.

Dougall said he never saw the October 8 letter until Hadley sent it to him Friday.

After learning of the privacy breach, Dougall spent Friday evening trying to contact representatives from HealthCare.gov to no avail; he spent an hour waiting on the telephone and an online chat session was unhelpful. He also wrote to Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Tim Scott (R-SC), along with Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC).

“I want my personal information off of that website,” Dougall said.

Security Risk

Last week, the Associated Press disclosed a government memo revealing the “high” security risk for HealthCare.gov. Those concerns surfaced at Wednesday’s hearing with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who claimed the system was secure.

HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters told the AP, “When consumers fill out their online … applications, they can trust that the information they’re providing is protected by stringent security standards and that the technology underlying the application process has been tested and is secure.”

However, that didn’t stop members of Congress from voicing alarm.

“You accepted a risk on behalf of every user … that put their personal financial information at risk,” Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) told Sebelius. “Amazon would never do this. ProFlowers would never do this. Kayak would never do this. This is completely an unacceptable level of security.”

Heritage cyber-security expert Steven Bucci, director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, said users of HealthCare.gov are leaving their personal information unsecured.

“Once it goes out over the system, it is vulnerable,” Bucci said. “There appears to have been a singular lack of concern for security. The site needs to receive and transmit sensitive personal information, yet it has less than state of the art security.”

Bucci said if a doctor’s receptionist speaks too loudly about personal information so that others could hear it, that’s a violation of the law.

“Functionality and security have to be the hallmark of programs like this one,” Bucci said. “The site has failed on both counts and has further weakened the confidence of the American people.”

Unanswered Questions

Hadley’s experience has left him unsure about what to do next. He said he was frustrated by the difficulty contacting the Department of Health and Human Services and lack of response from his elected representatives.

Dougall said grateful that Hadley made the call to him Friday, but voiced similar frustration with HHS. But while Dougall will continue with his current health plan, Hadley isn’t so fortunate.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina informed Hadley that his current plan is no longer available and offered to auto-enroll him in a new health insurance plan. But that option would increase his monthly premiums by 92 percent and double his deductible. Hadley said he doesn’t qualify for any subsidies and won’t continue the process on HealthCare.gov because of the privacy breach.

“If I have their information, then who else has my information now?” Hadley worried.

After examining the letter Hadley downloaded, Heritage health policy analyst Chris Jacobs noted the irony of HHS’ promise: “The Health Insurance Marketplace protects the privacy and security of personally identifiable information.”

“Justin’s story demonstrates how Obamacare’s flaws go well beyond a bungled website,” Jacobs said. “From canceled coverage to skyrocketing premiums to the federal government’s failing to protect Americans’ personal data, the damage Obamacare has inflicted is becoming more and more clear each day.”

Posted in Front PageObamacare [slideshow_deploy]

Google puts a large mystery barge in San Francisco Bay.

google barge

Google takes secrecy to new heights with mystery barge

By Ronnie Cohen and Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – How badly does Google want to keep under wraps a mysterious project taking shape on a barge in San Francisco Bay? Badly enough to require U.S. government officials to sign confidentiality agreements.

At least one Coast Guard employee has had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the Internet giant, said Barry Bena, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman. Another person who would only identify himself as an inspector for a California government agency had to do the same.

Moored in the shadow of the Bay Bridge off of Treasure Island, a former military base, the nondescript barge is stacked several stories high with white shipping containers, and sprouts what appear to be antennas on top. The hulking structure, half shrouded in scaffolding, has stirred intense speculation in the Bay Area since reports of its existence surfaced late last week.

Technology website CNET theorized that the vessel might be a floating data center that will house banks of computers. Local TV station KPIX said the barge is intended to serve as a floating retail store for Google’s “Glass” wearable computer device – although its external appearance, at least thus far, doesn’t suggest such a purpose.

Adding to the mystery, a second similar barge was recently spotted in Portland, Maine, and is also registered to By and Large LLC, according to local media reports.

The company itself is keeping mum, refusing even to acknowledge its affiliation with the vessels.

Secrecy is a standard business practice in Silicon Valley, where technology companies such as Apple Inc go to great lengths to keep their latest gadgets under wraps and a constellation of blogs compete to reveal highly prized details.

But the concealment effort surrounding the barge is in another league. Chain-link fences and security guards encircle a pier and a couple of nearby buildings on the island, which sits between San Francisco and Oakland.

A California state inspector, who said he had business in the hangar-like Building 3 where some of the early construction took place, told Reuters he had to surrender his mobile phone and sign a confidentiality agreement in order to enter.

Bob Jessup, a construction company superintendent who works in a building across the street, said Google spent the past year working on the project. He said they fenced off a wide area and brought in at least 40 welders a day, who worked around the clock and refused to say a word.

“They wouldn’t give up any of the information,” Jessup said. “It was a phenomenal production. None of them would tell us anything.”

He said they worked on the inside and the outside of the shipping containers, outfitting them with electronics – “very hush hush” – and then loaded them onto the barge with a crane. They put sides on the containers, with glass windows in some of them. They had to weld them very precisely so they could stack, Jessup recounted.

Jessup said he could not imagine that Google would try to use the floating vessel as a retail outlet. “Who’s going to want to climb up in there?” he asked. “It’s really ugly.”

The vessel is registered to a company called By and Large LLC, and some nearby property on Treasure Island has been subleased to the same firm. Representatives of the firm could not be reached for comment.

Larry Goldzband, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, told Reuters his agency has had several meetings with Google officials about the barge in recent months. Yet the company provided little information other than telling him that the vessel will be used for “general technology purposes,” he said.

Google “could not give us a specific plan of any kind,” not even whether they intended the barge to move or stay in one place, Goldzband said. If the barge remains in place for an extended period of time after its construction is completed, it will require a permit from the BCDC, he said.

“We’ve asked counsel to get us as much information as soon as they can, so that we can continue the discussion,” Goldzband said, referring to Google’s law firm.

(Reporting by Ronnie Cohen and Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Edwin Chan, Jonathan Weber and Lisa Shumaker)

Exclusive: Germany, Brazil Turn to U.N. to Restrain American Spies.

Posted By Colum Lynch, Shane Harris, John Hudson  Thursday, October 24, 2013 – 8:18 PM  Share

Brazil and Germany today joined forces to press for the adoption of a U.N. General Resolution that promotes the right of privacy on the internet, marking the first major international effort to restrain the National Security Agency’s intrusions into the online communications of foreigners, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the push.

The effort follows a German claim that the American spy agency may have tapped the private telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and dozens of other world leaders. It also comes about one month after Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff denounced NSA espionage against her country as “a breach of international law” in a General Assembly speech and proposed that the U.N. establish legal guidelines to prevent “cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war.”

Brazilian and German diplomats met in New York today with a small group of Latin American and European governments to consider a draft resolution that calls for expanding privacy rights contained in the International Covenant Civil and Political Rights to the online world. The draft does not refer to a flurry of American spying revelations that have caused a political uproar around the world, particularly in Brazil and German. But it was clear that the revelation provided the political momentum to trigger today’s move to the United Nations. The blowback from the NSA leaks continues to agonize U.S. diplomats and military officials concerned about America’s image abroad.

“This is an example of the very worst aspects of the Snowden disclosures,” a former defense official with deep experience in NATO, told The Cable, referring to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. “It will be very difficult for the US to dig out of this, although we will over time. The short term costs in credibility and trust are enormous.”

Although the U.N.’s ability to fundamentally constrain the NSA is nil, the mounting international uproar over U.S. surveillance has security experts fearful for the ramifications.

“The worst case scenario I think would be having our European allies saying they will no longer share signals intelligence because of a concern that our SigInt is being derived from mechanisms that violate their privacy rules,” said Ray Kimball, an army strategist with policy experience on European issues. He stressed that he was not speaking for the military.

Although the Germans have not indicated such a move is in the works, they do have a game plan for making their surveillance complaints heard. The International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights was written in 1966 and came into force in 1976, decades before the internet transformed the way people communicate around the world. A provision in the international covenant, Article 17, says “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.” It also states that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

“The covenant was formulated at a time when the internet didn’t exist,” said a diplomat familiar with the negotiations. “Everyone has the right to privacy and the goal is to this resolution is to apply those protections to online communications.”

Brazil and Germany are hoping to put the resolution to a vote in the U.N. General Assembly human rights committee later this year. The draft resolution, which has not been made public and which is still subject to negotiation among U.N. states, will seek to apply the those protections to online communications. “This is not just about spying,” said the diplomat. This is about ensuring that “privacy of citizens in their home states under their own home legislation.”

“It calls on countries to put an end to violations of that right,” the official said. “People have to be protected offline and online.”

Anyone who thinks this issue will only resonate in BrazilMexico, FranceItaly, and Germany — where the Snowden leaks recently revealed NSA datamining — isn’t paying attention.

According to the latest internal NSA memo leaked to The Guardian, the list of targeted nations is even longer, which could give this U.N. effort additional momentum.  The NSA monitored the communications of 35 unnamed “world leaders,” whose phone numbers were given to the intelligence agency by a U.S. government official, according to the report. The agency has been collecting phone numbers, email addresses, and residential addresses of foreign officials from the people in the U.S. government who are in touch with them. The U.S. official, who is not named, personally handed over 200 phone numbers about the people he or she was in touch with.

It’s hardly a secret, or a surprise, that the NSA spies on foreign governments, including those friendly to the United States. Two former intelligence officials told The Cable that contact information like this is a regular source of intelligence for the NSA. And the memo acknowledges that the agency looks for officials’ contact information in open sources, such as the Internet.

But the revelation that U.S. officials are facilitating spying on the people they do business with to this extent has created the impetus for U.N. action, a first-of-its kind development.

“There’s a mixture of hypocrisy and feigned outrage along with real objections here,” said a former senior intelligence official. “I don’t know where the line is. The idea that political leaders are out of bounds for foreign intelligence is amusing. But on the other hand this business about trusting allies is a big thing. My guess is there’s a real annoyance here” on the part of foreign allies.

Merkel was so outraged by the news that her phone had been monitored that she called President Obama to discuss it. The White House issued a carefully worded statement, assuring that the German leader’s phone would not be tapped now or in the future, but not saying whether it had been.

It’s not clear whether the NSA is still collecting information from the address books of U.S. officials. The memo was written in 2006. But at least at the time, such collection was a regular occurrence.

“From time to time, SID [the agency’s signals intelligence directorate] is offered access to the personal contact databases of U.S. officials,” the memo states. It doesn’t specify who those officials are, or where in the government they work. But, the memo goes on to say, the information provided by the one U.S. official was sufficiently helpful that the agency decided to go around asking for more such contacts from the NSA’s “supported customers,” which include the Departments of Defense and State, as well as the White House. (None of them are listed by name in the memo.)

“These numbers have provided lead information to other numbers,” the memo states. In the case of the one U.S. officials, the 200 numbers included 43 that previously weren’t on the NSA’s radar.

“This success leads S2 [part of the signals intelligence directorate] to wonder if there are NSA liaisons whose supported customers may be willing to share” their contacts, as well. “S2 welcomes such information!”

Apparently, though, success was measured not so much in secrets learned but just in having the data itself. The memo acknowledges that analysts “have noted little reported intelligence from these particular numbers, which appear not to be used for sensitive discussions.”

From this we might conclude that NSA’s targets are not fools. Why would anyone in the senior ranks of a government or military have sensitive conversations or discuss classified information over the phone number or email on his business card? But, the NSA seems to have concluded, what could it hurt to find out?

Time will tell. In a statement, a spokesperson for Merkel said she told Obama that tapping her phone would represent a “grave breach of trust” between the two allies. “She made clear that she views such practices, if proven true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally.”

With the latest news from the U.N., it appears the U.S. might be in store for more than just a slap on the wrist.

Billy Graham’s Last Message?

Image: Rev. Billy Graham Prepares 'Perhaps … My Last Message'

Rev. Billy Graham Prepares ‘Perhaps … My Last Message’

Sunday, 06 Oct 2013 09:46 PM

By David A. Patten

In an exclusive interview, the Rev. Billy Graham tells Newsmax that President Obama’s “hope and change” mantra is nothing more than a cliché and warns that the nation faces increasing threats to civil and religious liberties from its government.

Graham, who is preparing for possibly his last crusade, this time via video, said America is drenched in a “sea of immorality” and suggested that the second coming of Christ is “near.”

Graham, who turns 95 in November, and just published his book, “The Reason for My Hope: Salvation,” was asked whether he believes the government may be so large and powerful, in light of the pervasive collection and monitoring of digital communications, that it becomes an inherent threat to basic human liberties.

 

“Our early fathers led our nation according to biblical principles,” Graham wrote in response. “‘Hope and change’ has become a cliché in our nation, and it is daunting to think that any American could hope for change from what God has blessed,” he stated, an obvious reference to President Obama’s campaign motto.

“Our country is turning away from what has made it so great,” he continued, “but far greater than the government knowing our every move that could lead to losing our freedom to worship God publicly, is to know that God knows our every thought; he knows our hearts need transformation.”

Graham continues to share his message of God’s love, a message he has imparted faithfully for decades, despite faltering health in recent years.

He was hospitalized for pneumonia in 2011 and again last year due to a lung infection. He held his first crusade in September 1947, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He would go on to present over 400 crusades in 185 countries. But in the United States, he has probably received the most media attention for his role as a spiritual adviser to many presidents.

To say Graham’s ministry has had a far-flung impact would be an understatement. His staff has estimated that Graham led some 3.2 million people to faith in Christ.

When he made Gallup’s top 10 list of Most Admired Men in January, it marked the 56th time he made the list since 1955 — more than anyone else.

But perhaps his greatest legacy will be the members of his own family who carry on the spiritual tradition he established in 1950 when he founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).

They include son Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the BGEA, and also the global Samaritan’s Purse charitable ministry.

Many believing Christians believe in a coming Armageddon, a final battle between good and evil prophesied in the book of Revelation.

Graham tells Newsmax it is not wise to “speculate” about the dates of such a battle, but he adds that the Bible says that there “will be signs pointing toward the return of the Lord.”

“I believe all of these signs are evident today,” Graham wrote, adding that “the return of Christ is near.

“Regardless of what society says, we cannot go on much longer in the sea of immorality without judgment coming,” he says.

Graham’s ministry work continues at a tireless pace, one that many would consider miraculous. This month, Graham is launching a video series that will be part of a national Gospel-presentation program called “My Hope America.”

Graham shared with Newsmax that “My Hope America” may be his last Gospel outreach.

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“It could perhaps be my last message,” he wrote, “which is this: Christ is our hope for today and our promise for tomorrow. And it is fulfilled in the great work he did for mankind on the cross when he paid the penalty for our sin.”

Full Interview Follows:

Newsmax: Since your first crusade in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1947, traditional moral standards in America have changed radically, with attacks on traditional marriage and abortion and divorce. In an increasingly secular world, can even non-believers find ‘hope’ – to borrow a word from your book title?

Rev. Billy Graham: Absolutely non-believers can find hope, because all people have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). But the Bible also tells us that God our Savior desires all people to be saved and to come into the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4 NKJV). Real hope is found only in the God of hope. To demonstrate this to mankind, He sent His only Son to earth to bring redemption to people’s souls. God stands by ready to grant salvation to all who believe in Him. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only [Son], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16 NKJV). Do not miss the importance of this wonderful phrase ‘in Him.’ When we step into an airplane, fasten our seatbelts and the wheels leave the runway, we have placed our physical being and our complete faith not only in the aircraft, but in the pilot and crew. When we receive salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ, we are committing our entire being—our physical, emotional, and spiritual life — to Him because we put our faith in Him — in everything He has said, done, and promised.

What is the biggest spiritual danger America currently faces?

There was a headline recently about more Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs; mixing a little Christianity with the religions of the world. It is called a ‘trendy faith.’ Society does not object to this kind of faith. We have dismissed God, resulting in skewed thinking and consciences that are desensitized to right and wrong, basing moral decisions solely on what ‘fits in’ with our individual preferences. I watch the news daily and my heart is burdened. When I hear despair in people’s voices, when I see the turmoil on their faces, it tells me that hopelessness abounds. This is my reason for writing the book, to proclaim that there is a way out and it is through Jesus Christ who came to save us from self-destruction. People go on a search for anything but God. Many people do not want to face the truth of the Gospel. They water it down to a myth, causing young and old to doubt the authority of the Bible. We as a nation have turned our back on God who blessed our country because its fundamental principles were grounded in the Word of God. People want designer religion, but I pray that they instead will submit to their Creator who longs to become their God and Savior. He has designed eternal life in Heaven for all those who receive His salvation.

One chapter in your book is titled “He Is Coming Back.” Do you think the biblical requirements of the End Times have largely been fulfilled, and are we on the verge of an “Armageddon” event that may presage the return of Jesus?

While we are told not to speculate about dates, God keeps His promises and this is why we can be sure that the return of Christ is near. Scripture tells us that there will be signs pointing toward the return of the Lord. I believe all of these signs are evident today. What a time to take the news of the day in one hand and the Bible in the other and watch the unfolding of the great drama of the ages come together. I would not want to live in any other time. The Bible speaks powerfully of trouble ahead with storm warnings that carry a booming jolt of truth. Regardless of what society says, we cannot go on much longer in the sea of immorality without judgment coming. We are at a crossroads, and there are profound moral issues at stake. It is time to return to biblical truth. The warning is clear; prepare to meet thy God—followed by the voice of the gentle Shepherd—the Lord Jesus—saying, ‘Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28 NKJV). A new world is coming. It is time for the people of the world to turn to God.

You’ve visited many presidents, and prayed with them in many different circumstances. Which U.S. president would you hold up as the best example for other Christians to emulate, in terms of their personal standards, moral conduct, and heart for God? 

I have tried to be a pastor to each of the 12 U. S. presidents I have had the privilege of knowing personally, but I would never single one of them out. They are just ordinary people, most of whom are seeking to talk to somebody who won’t quote them; whom they can trust and have prayer with. They are searching for something to hold on to, something that can give them an anchor in the midst of this turbulent world or the latest political crisis they find themselves in. It is a lonely place to be in that level of leadership, and I have always encouraged people to pray for them, asking that they seek God’s wisdom and do His will.

Your ministry, and the faith that your children and grandchildren continue to champion today, have touched millions and millions of lives in a powerful way all across the globe. If you had one last message to share with them, one final word you would love for them to engrave on their hearts and never forget, what would you say?

This is exactly why I have written the book [The Reason for My Hope: Salvation] and why our ministry is launching ‘My Hope America’ television program this November. It could perhaps be my last message which is this — Christ is our hope for today and our promise for tomorrow — and it is fulfilled in the great work He did for mankind on the cross when He paid the penalty for our sin. He offers salvation to those who will ‘come’ to Him, believe in what He has done and what He has said, and obediently follow Him. I’ve never known anyone to come to Christ and ever regret it.

We’ve recently learned the federal government is tracking every letter mailed, every phone call made, every email sent. Is there a point at which a government can become so large and powerful that it inherently threatens basic human freedoms, such as the freedom of religion?

Americans have always fought for freedom. This is why America was founded — to worship the one true God openly with no fear of tyranny. Our early fathers led our nation according to Biblical principles. Hope and change has become a cliché in our nation and it is daunting to think that any American could hope for change from what God has blessed. Our country is turning away from what has made it so great, but far greater than the government knowing our every move that could lead to losing our freedom to worship God publicly is to know that God knows our every thought; He knows our hearts need transformation. The human heart can be changed only by the power of God. Hope is certain only through His Son Jesus Christ — not in the change agents of the world, and when the end of the world as we know it takes place at Christ’s return, no government can prevent it and no individual can escape it. Those who hope for it will welcome it; those who refuse to embrace its reality will never change its certainty.

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At U.N., Brazil’s Rousseff blasts U.S. spying as breach of law

At U.N., Brazil’s Rousseff blasts U.S. spying as breach of law

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff addresses the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2013. REUTERS-Shannon Stapleton

By Daniel Trotta

Tue Sep 24, 2013 12:14pm EDT

(Reuters) – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff used her position as the opening speaker at the U.N. General Assembly to accuse the United States of violating human rights and international law through espionage that included spying on her email.

Rousseff had expressed her displeasure last week by calling off a high-profile state visit to the United States scheduled for October over reports that the U.S. National Security Agency had been spying on Brazil.

In unusually strong language, Rousseff launched a blistering attack on U.S. surveillance, calling it an affront to Brazilian sovereignty and “totally unacceptable.”

“Tampering in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations,” Rousseff told the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

She also proposed an international framework for governing the internet and said Brazil would adopt legislation and technology to protect it from illegal interception of communications.

“Information and telecommunication technologies cannot be the new battlefield between states. Time is ripe to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war, through espionage, sabotage, and attacks against systems and infrastructure of other countries,” Rousseff said.

U.S. President Barack Obama was en route to the United Nations while Rousseff spoke. Speaking immediately after Rousseff, he avoided direct reference to her criticism.

“We have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence, so as to properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies, with the privacy concerns that all people share,” said Obama, who concentrated mostly on the crisis in Syria and the prospects for a diplomatic opening with Iran.

Rousseff rejected the U.S. government reasoning that the NSA surveillance was aimed at detecting suspected terrorist activity and she accused the agency of engaging in industrial espionage.

Rousseff said she had asked Washington for explanations, an apology and promises the surveillance would never be repeated.

Postponing the state visit was a rare and diplomatically severe snub by Brazil. While foreign leaders frequently visit the White House, state visits are reserved for special occasions and include an elaborate state dinner. No new date has been set.

Rousseff’s state visit was conceived to highlight cooperation between the two biggest economies in the Americas and Brazil’s emergence over the past decade as a regional power.

Ties between the United States and Brazil had been improving steadily since Rousseff took office in 2011. The cancellation could harm cooperation on trade, regional affairs and other issues at a time of growing influence from China, which has surpassed the United States as Brazil’s leading trade partner.

The trip had been seen as a platform for deals on oil exploration and biofuels technology, and Brazil’s potential purchase of fighter jets from Chicago-based Boeing Co.

A report by Brazil Globo’s news program Fantastico on National Security Agency spying was based on documents that journalist Glenn Greenwald obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, was one of the journalists to first report Snowden’s leaks of classified information on previously secret U.S. telephone and internet surveillance efforts.

The report also said the United States intercepted communications of Brazilian state oil company Petrobras and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto before he assumed office.

“Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately,” Rousseff said in her U.N. speech.

“Corporate information, often of high economic and even strategic value, was at the center of espionage activity. Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the permanent mission to the United Nations and the office of the president of the republic itself, had their communications intercepted.”

NSA disguised itself as Google to spy, say reports

NSA disguised itself as Google to spy, say reports

If a recently leaked document is any indication, the US National Security Agency — or its UK counterpart — appears to have put on a Google suit to gather intelligence.

Edward Moyer

September 12, 2013 2:19 PM PDT

The flag of the NSA.

Here’s one of the latest tidbits on the NSA surveillance scandal (which seems to be generating nearly as many blog items as there are phone numbers in the spy agency’s data banks).

Earlier this week, Techdirt picked up on a passing mention in a Brazilian news story and a Slate article to point out that the US National Security Agency had apparently impersonated Google on at least one occasion to gather data on people. (Mother Jones subsequently pointed outTechdirt’s point-out.)

Brazilian site Fantastico obtained and published a document leaked by Edward Snowden, which diagrams how a “man in the middle attack” involving Google was apparently carried out.

A technique commonly used by hackers, a MITM attack involves using a fake security certificate to pose as a legitimate Web service, bypass browser security settings, and then intercept data that an unsuspecting person is sending to that service. Hackers could, for example, pose as a banking Web site and steal passwords.

The article by Brazil’s Fantastico mentions a hitherto unknown GCHQ spy program called “Flying Pig.” This prompted a Twitter quip from Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Kurt Opsahl: “PRISM, Flying Pig. Someone in the surveillance state has a thing for Pink Floyd album covers.”(Credit: Pig: Musiclipse.com; prism: Harvest, Capitol.)

The technique is particularly sly because the hackers then use the password to log in to the real banking site and then serve as a “man in the middle,” receiving requests from the banking customer, passing them on to the bank site, and then returning requested info to the customer — all the while collecting data for themselves, with neither the customer nor the bank realizing what’s happening. Such attacks can be used against e-mail providers too.

It’s not clear if the supposed attack in the Fantastico document was handled by the NSA or by its UK counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). The article by the Brazilian news agency says, “In this case, data is rerouted to the NSA central, and then relayed to its destination, without either end noticing.”

“There have been rumors of the NSA and others using those kinds of MITM attacks,” Mike Masnick writes on Techdirt, “but to have it confirmed that they’re doing them against the likes of Google… is a big deal — and something I would imagine does not make [Google] particularly happy.”

Google provided a short statement to Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson in response to his questions on the matter: “As for recent reports that the US government has found ways to circumvent our security systems, we have no evidence of any such thing ever occurring. We provide our user data to governments only in accordance with the law.” (The company is also trying to win the right toprovide more transparency regarding government requests for data on Google users.)

CNET got a “no comment” from the NSA in response to our request for more information.

As TechDirt suggests, an MITM attack on the part of the NSA or GCHQ would hardly be a complete shock. The New York Times reported last week that the NSA has sidestepped common Net encryption methods in a number of ways, including hacking into the servers of private companies to steal encryption keys, collaborating with tech companies to build in back doors, and covertly introducing weaknesses into encryption standards.

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to obtain a fake security certificate to foil the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) cryptographic protocol that’s designed to verify the authenticity of Web sites and ensure secure Net communications.

Indeed, such attacks have been aimed at Google before, including in 2011, when a hacker broke into the systems of DigiNotar — a Dutch company that issued Web security certificates — and created more than 500 SSL certificates used to authenticate Web sites.

In any case, the purported NSA/GCHG impersonation of Google inspired a rather clever graphic by Mother Jones, one that might even impress the rather clever Doodlers at Google:

James Woods on Obama: He’s the ‘gift from hell’

James Woods on Obama: He’s the ‘gift from hell’

By Cheryl K. Chumley

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 12, 2013

  • James Woods copy

It’s a safe bet there’s no love lost between Hollywood actor James Woods and President Obama — the former has taken to Twitter several times over the last few months to trash the policies and politics of the latter.

The latest came this week, in response to a report from British press that revealed the National Security Agency commonly provides Israel with intelligence data — without first stripping out private and personal information on American citizens. The Guardian in London reported the item, the latest in its coverage of document leaks from Edward Snowden.

Mr. Woods unleashed his views of the matter — and of Mr. Obama’s role in allowing the practice to occur — on Twitter.

He wrote: “Report: Data on Americans shared with Israel … Obama: the gift from hell that keeps on giving.”

This is hardly the first unfavorable rating Mr. Woods has posted on his Twitter account about Mr. Obama. In July, the actor ranted over Mr. Obama’s insertion of his personal opinion into the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin trial, characterizing it as fueling racial tensions and wondering why the president would speak his mind about the death of the 17-year-old Trayvon but not worry so much about American’s soldiers and wounded warriors.

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