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:

TEA PARTY GROUPS NATIONWIDE UNITE AGAINST AMERICAN ATTACK ON SYRIA

TEA PARTY GROUPS NATIONWIDE UNITE AGAINST AMERICAN ATTACK ON SYRIA

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 411

Republican leaders in Washington, including SpeakerJohn Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Senators McCain (R-AZ)Graham (R-SC), and Corker (R-TN), are supporting President Obama’s call for an American attack on Syria, but Tea Party groups around the country are united in their opposition to such military action.

Tea Party activists appear to be virtually unanimous in their support for the position taken by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who said on Tuesday the United States “should not serve as Al-Qaeda’s Air Force.”

Lynn Moss, co-organizer of the Mid-South Tea Party in Memphis, Tennessee, expressed a view held by many Tea Party activists around the country. Moss told Breitbart News on Thursday, “both sides of the conflict in Syria are enemies of the United States. It would be foolish,” she said, “and self-defeating to involve ourselves in this already volatile situation.”

Joanne Jones, vice chairman of the Charleston Tea Party in South Carolina, told Breitbart News Thursday that “conservatives of many stripes are opposed to U.S. military intervention in Syria. Particularly in light of today’s account of al Qaeda-linked rebels murdering residents of a Christian village, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince us that the United States would indeed be helping the ‘right’ rebels.”

Bobby Alexander, chairman of the Central Kentucky Tea Party Patriots, told Mother Jones, “[c]onservatives in Kentucky do not want us involved in Syria.” John Kemper of the United Kentucky Tea Party added, “[t]he things I’m seeing and emails I’m getting from folks around the state, they’re not in favor of [an American attack on Syria.]”

Mark Kevin Lloyd, a Tea Party activist in Virginia, told Breitbart News that “the Obama administration and some in the Republican leadership seems overly concerned about the president’s credibility in the eyes of the world. Both President Obama and Speaker Boehner need to understand they each have the same credibility problems in the eyes of the American people.

“How can the president be so sure of the situation in Syria, and so clueless about Benghazi? Too many questions, not nearly enough answers.”

Bruce Carroll, chairman of Carolina Conservatives United, told Breitbart News, “we share the humanitarian concern for the Syrian people who have been killed and injured by conventional weapons and chemical weapons and the millions of refugees that are suffering due to that nation’s two-year civil war.

For Carroll, though, such concerns do not justify American intervention. “We strongly believe the situation in Syria will not improve, and could well deteriorate, due to American military involvement,” he said. “Additionally, we do not believe President Obama has adequately made the case that any national security interests are at stake, a minimum requirement for military actions abroad.”

Mark West, founder of the Chattanooga Tea Party in Tennessee told Breitbart News Thursday: “while Americans have come to expect flawed and disastrous foreign policy decisions from the Obama administration, what is alarming is the foolish part that Republicans are playing in embracing and facilitating Obama’s latest plan to attack Syria.”

According to West, “what should be painfully obvious to any alert American is that Obama’s plan (and now his Republican allies’) to launch “limited” attacks into a highly volatile war zone has the strong likelihood of escalating into a broader and protracted war. And if this occurs, Tennesseans will remember the fateful role that Senator Corker and other Republicans played in endorsing another one of Obama’s helter-skelter foreign policy initiatives.”

Though President Obama maintains he does not need Congressional authorization to conduct military action against Syria, he has nonetheless agreed to ask for Congressional support, without promising that he will be bound by votes taken in the House and Senate on the issue. On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10 to 7 to support President Obama’s call for an American air strike on Syria. Votes in the full Senate as well as in the House are expected to take place soon.

With those important votes looming, members of the Senate and the House are hearing from their constituents, the vast majority of whom oppose such action, according to recent polls. The virtually unanimous sentiment of Tea Party activists appears to be leading public opinion throughout the country in its opposition to American military attacks on Syria.

The image John Kerry WON’T want you to see: U.S. Secretary of State pictured dining with Assad and his wife at Damascus restaurant before war broke out in Syria

The image John Kerry WON’T want you to see: U.S. Secretary of State pictured dining with Assad and his wife at Damascus restaurant before war broke out in Syria

  • Kerry pictured around a small table with his wife and the Assads in 2009
  • Assad and Kerry lean in towards each other, deep in conversation
  • Picture taken in February 2009 when Kerry led a delegation to Syria
  • Kerry yesterday compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein

By ANTHONY BOND

PUBLISHED: 07:53 EST, 2 September 2013 | UPDATED: 11:29 EST, 2 September 2013

This astonishing photograph shows U.S Secretary of State John Kerry having a cosy and intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Kerry – who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday – is pictured around a small table with his wife and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry – who was then a senator for Massachusetts – lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their wives look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks – which are believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009
Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009Relaxed: A waiter carries over a tray of drinks, which appear to look like cocktails

The picture is believed to have been taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss ideas and talk about the way forward for peace in the region.

Despite President Barack Obama taking a step back from his threat to launch an attack by putting  a vote in Congress, his Secretary of State has been outspoken about the dangers posed by the Syrian regime.

He said that Assad ‘has now joined the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein’ in deploying chemical weapons against his population.

He said on Sunday that the U.S. now has evidence that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria and that ‘the case gets stronger by the day’ for a military attack.

Speaking out: US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the U.S. knows 'with high confidence' the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack last weekSpeaking out: US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the U.S. knows ‘with high confidence’ the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack

Couple: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured with his British-born wife Asma AssadCouple: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured with his British-born wife Asma Assad
Under pressure: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, is pictured in a meeting yesterday. Kerry has described him as a ¿thug and murderer¿ Under pressure: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, is pictured in a meeting yesterday. Kerry has described him as a ‘thug and murderer’During a passionate speech in Washington last Friday, he also called Assad  a ‘thug and murderer’ and urged the world to act as he warned ‘history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’.The U.S. administration put the Syrian chemical weapons death toll on the outskirts of Damascus at 1,429 people – far more than previous estimates – including more than 400 children.

SEVEN MILLION SYRIANS DISPLACED

The head of the U.N. refugee agency in Syria says seven  million Syrians, or almost one-third of the population, have been displaced by the country’s civil war.

Tarik Kurdi said that five million of the displaced are still in Syria while about 2 million have fled to neighboring countries.

He says two million children are among those directly affected by the war.

Kurdi says U.N. assistance has been a ‘drop in the sea of humanitarian need’ and that the funding gap is ‘very, very wide.’ He says international donors have sent less than one-third of the money needed to help those displaced by the war.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011.

Kerry has  said he is confident that Congress will give Obama its backing for an attack against Syria, but the former Massachusetts senator also said the president has authority to act on his own if Congress doesn’t give its approval.

Speaking today, Senator John McCain said President Bashar Assad will be ‘euphoric’ about Obama’s decision to wait for Congress over Syria.

One of the loudest critics of the administration’s handling of Syria, McCain criticised Obama in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Referring to Obama’s famous remark when he said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line, McCain said: ‘He didn’t say, “It’s a red line – and by the way I’m going to have to seek the approval of Congress.”

He said it was a red line, and that the United States of America would act.

‘And that’s a big difference, and that’s one of the reasons why this is so problematic.’

The Arizona Republican, who Obama beat for the presidency in 2008, said the President asked him to come to the White House specifically to discuss Syria.
Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks on Wednesday, including many women and children

Horrific: Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks, including many women and children

Awful: Secretary of State John Kerry said images like these contributed to the U.S. assessment that chemical weapons were used in Syria

Obama is hoping one of Congress’s most intractable foreign policy hawks will help sell the idea of a U.S. military intervention in Syria to a nation deeply scarred by more than a decade of war.

Having announced over the weekend that he will seek congressional approval for military strikes against the Assad regime, the Obama administration is now trying to rally support among Americans and their congressmen and senators.

Today’s meeting with McCain is meant to address concerns of those who feel Obama isn’t doing enough to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government for the chemical weapons attack.

On the other side of the spectrum, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers don’t want to see military action at all.

Obama’s turnabout on Syria sets the stage for the biggest foreign policy vote in Congress since the Iraq war.

Tension:Tension: President Bashar Assad will be ‘euphoric’ about Obama’s decision to wait for Congress over Syria, according to Sen. John McCain
Firm:Firm: Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said evidence of alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime presented to Moscow by the U.S. and its allies is ‘absolutely unconvincing’

Meanwhile Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the information the U.S. showed Moscow trying to prove that the Syrian regime was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack is ‘absolutely unconvincing.’

Lavrov said today ‘there was nothing specific’ in the evidence presented by Washington: ‘no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals.’ He did not say what tests he was referring to.

Lavrov say U.S. officials said they cannot share with them all the evidence because some of it is classified.

He did not describe the tests further.

Crisis talks: President Obama and Vice-President Biden meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice to discuss Syria on SundayCrisis talks: President Obama and Vice-President Biden meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice to discuss Syria on Sunday
Debate: The President meets national security advisers to discuss possible military actionDebate: The President meets national security advisers to discuss possible military action

Lavrov brushed aside Western evidence of an alleged Syrian regime role. Russia, along with China and Iran, has staunchly backed Assad throughout the conflict.

‘What our American, British and French partners showed us in the past and have showed just recently is absolutely unconvincing,’ Lavrov said at Russia’s top diplomatic school.

‘And when you ask for more detailed proof they say all of this is classified so we cannot show this to you.’

U.N. chemical inspectors toured the stricken areas last week, collecting biological and soil samples, but it is not clear when the will present their findings.

The Syria conflict erupted in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad that quickly transformed into a civil war.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.

Kerry describing Syria’s Assad as a thug and murderer