Entries Tagged "Twitter"

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British Tourists Arrested in the U.S. for Tweeting

Does this story make sense to anyone?

The Department of Homeland Security flagged him as a potential threat when he posted an excited tweet to his pals about his forthcoming trip to Hollywood which read: ‘Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America’.

After making their way through passport control at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) last Monday afternoon the pair were detained by armed guards.

Despite telling officials the term ‘destroy’ was British slang for ‘party’, they were held on suspicion of planning to ‘commit crimes’ and had their passports confiscated.

There just as to be more than this story. The DHS isn’t monitoring the Tweets of random British tourists — they just can’t be.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): According to DHS documents received by EPIC, the DHS monitors the Internet, including social media.

In February 2011, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the agency planned to implement a program that would monitor media content, including social media data. The proposed initiatives would gather information from “online forums, blogs, public websites, and messages boards” and disseminate information to “federal, state, local, and foreign government and private sector partners.” The program would be executed, in part, by individuals who established fictitious usernames and passwords to create covert social media profiles to spy on other users. The agency stated it would store personal information for up to five years.

[…]

The records reveal that the DHS is paying General Dynamics to monitor the news. The agency instructed the company to monitor for “[media] reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government, DHS, or prevent, protect, respond government activities.”

[…]

The DHS instructed the company to “Monitor public social communications on the Internet.” The records list the websites that will be monitored, including the comments sections of [The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, Wired, and ABC News.]”

Still, I have trouble believing that this is what happened. For this to work General Dynamics would have had to monitor Twitter for key words. (“Destroy America” is certainly a good key word to search for.) Then, they would have to find out the real name associated with the Twitter account — unlike Facebook or Google+, Twitter doesn’t have real name information — so the TSA could cross-index that name with the airline’s passenger manifests. Then the TSA has to get all this information into the INS computers, so that the border control agent knows to detain him. Sure, it sounds straightforward, but getting all those computers to talk to each other that fast isn’t easy. There has to be more going on here.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): One reader points out that this story is from the Daily Mail, and that it’s prudent to wait for some more reputable news source to report the story.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): There’s another story from The Register, but they’re just using the Daily Mail.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): The FBI is looking for someone to build them a system that can monitor social networks.

The information comes from a document released on 19 January looking for companies who might want to build a monitoring system for the FBI. It spells out what the bureau wants from such a system and invites potential contractors to reply by 10 February.

The bureau’s wish list calls for the system to be able to automatically search “publicly available” material from Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites for keywords relating to terrorism, surveillance operations, online crime and other FBI missions. Agents would be alerted if the searches produce evidence of “breaking events, incidents, and emerging threats.”

Agents will have the option of displaying the tweets and other material captured by the system on a map, to which they can add layers of other data, including the locations of US embassies and military installations, details of previous terrorist attacks and the output from local traffic cameras.

EDITED TO ADD (1/30): New reports are saying that customs was tipped off about the two people, and their detention was not a result of data mining:

“Based on information provided by the LAX Port Authority Infoline — a suspicious activity tipline — CBP conducted a secondary interview of two subjects presenting for entry into the United States,” says the spokesperson, who notes that the CBP “denies entry to thousands of individuals” each year. “Information gathered during this interview revealed that both individuals were inadmissible to the United States and were returned to their country of residence.”

This makes a lot more sense to me.

Posted on January 30, 2012 at 10:52 AMView Comments

The Effects of Social Media on Undercover Policing

Social networking sites make it very difficult, if not impossible, to have undercover police officers:

“The results found that 90 per cent of female officers were using social media compared with 81 per cent of males.”

The most popular site was Facebook, followed by Twitter. Forty seven per cent of those surveyed used social networking sites daily while another 24 per cent used them weekly. All respondents aged 26 years or younger had uploaded photos of themselves onto the internet.

“The thinking we had with this result means that the 16-year-olds of today who might become officers in the future have already been exposed.

“It’s too late [for them to take it down] because once it’s uploaded, it’s there forever.”

There’s another side to this issue as well. Social networking sites can help undercover officers with their backstory, by building a fictional history. Some of this might require help from the company that owns the social networking site, but that seems like a reasonable request by the police.

I am in the middle of reading Diego Gambetta’s book Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate. He talks about the lengthy vetting process organized crime uses to vet new members — often relying on people who knew the person since birth, or people who served time with him in jail — to protect against police informants. I agree that social networking sites can make undercover work even harder, but it’s gotten pretty hard even without that.

Posted on August 31, 2011 at 6:21 AMView Comments

Get Your Terrorist Alerts on Facebook and Twitter

Colors are so last decade:

The U.S. government’s new system to replace the five color-coded terror alerts will have two levels of warnings ­ elevated and imminent ­ that will be relayed to the public only under certain circumstances for limited periods of time, sometimes using Facebook and Twitter, according to a draft Homeland Security Department plan obtained by The Associated Press.

Some terror warnings could be withheld from the public entirely if announcing a threat would risk exposing an intelligence operation or a current investigation, according to the government’s confidential plan.

Like a carton of milk, the new terror warnings will each come with a stamped expiration date.

Specific and limited are good. Twitter and Facebook: I’m not so sure.

But what could go wrong?

An errant keystroke touched off a brief panic Thursday at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when an emergency message accidentally was sent out saying an “active shooter” was on campus.

The first message was sent on the university’s emergency alert system at 10:40 a.m., reaching 87,000 cellphones and email addresses, according to the university.

The university corrected the false alarm about 12 minutes later and said the alert was caused when a worker updating the emergency messaging system inadvertently sent the message rather than saving it.

The emails are designed to go out quickly in the event of an emergency, so the false alarm could not be canceled before it went out, the university said.

Posted on April 8, 2011 at 1:23 PMView Comments

Hacking HTTP Status Codes

One website can learn if you’re logged into other websites.

When you visit my website, I can automatically and silently determine if you’re logged into Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Digg. There are almost certainly thousands of other sites with this issue too, but I picked a few vulnerable well known ones to get your attention. You may not care that I can tell you’re logged into Gmail, but would you care if I could tell you’re logged into one or more porn or warez sites? Perhaps http://oppressive-regime.example.org/ would like to collect a list of their users who are logged into http://controversial-website.example.com/?

Posted on February 2, 2011 at 2:26 PMView Comments

Reading Me

The number of different ways to read my essays, commentaries, and links has grown recently. Here’s the rundown:

I think that about covers it for useful distribution formats right now.

EDITED TO ADD (6/20): One more; there’s a Crypto-Gram podcast.

Posted on June 15, 2010 at 1:05 PMView Comments

Reacting to Security Vulnerabilities

Last month, researchers found a security flaw in the SSL protocol, which is used to protect sensitive web data. The protocol is used for online commerce, webmail, and social networking sites. Basically, hackers could hijack an SSL session and execute commands without the knowledge of either the client or the server. The list of affected products is enormous.

If this sounds serious to you, you’re right. It is serious. Given that, what should you do now? Should you not use SSL until it’s fixed, and only pay for internet purchases over the phone? Should you download some kind of protection? Should you take some other remedial action? What?

If you read the IT press regularly, you’ll see this sort of question again and again. The answer for this particular vulnerability, as for pretty much any other vulnerability you read about, is the same: do nothing. That’s right, nothing. Don’t panic. Don’t change your behavior. Ignore the problem, and let the vendors figure it out.

There are several reasons for this. One, it’s hard to figure out which vulnerabilities are serious and which are not. Vulnerabilities such as this happen multiple times a month. They affect different software, different operating systems, and different web protocols. The press either mentions them or not, somewhat randomly; just because it’s in the news doesn’t mean it’s serious.

Two, it’s hard to figure out if there’s anything you can do. Many vulnerabilities affect operating systems or Internet protocols. The only sure fix would be to avoid using your computer. Some vulnerabilities have surprising consequences. The SSL vulnerability mentioned above could be used to hack Twitter. Did you expect that? I sure didn’t.

Three, the odds of a particular vulnerability affecting you are small. There are a lot of fish in the Internet, and you’re just one of billions.

Four, often you can’t do anything. These vulnerabilities affect clients and servers, individuals and corporations. A lot of your data isn’t under your direct control — it’s on your web-based email servers, in some corporate database, or in a cloud computing application. If a vulnerability affects the computers running Facebook, for example, your data is at risk, whether you log in to Facebook or not.

It’s much smarter to have a reasonable set of default security practices and continue doing them. This includes:

1. Install an antivirus program if you run Windows, and configure it to update daily. It doesn’t matter which one you use; they’re all about the same. For Windows, I like the free version of AVG Internet Security. Apple Mac and Linux users can ignore this, as virus writers target the operating system with the largest market share.

2. Configure your OS and network router properly. Microsoft’s operating systems come with a lot of security enabled by default; this is good. But have someone who knows what they’re doing check the configuration of your router, too.

3. Turn on automatic software updates. This is the mechanism by which your software patches itself in the background, without you having to do anything. Make sure it’s turned on for your computer, OS, security software, and any applications that have the option. Yes, you have to do it for everything, as they often have separate mechanisms.

4. Show common sense regarding the Internet. This might be the hardest thing, and the most important. Know when an email is real, and when you shouldn’t click on the link. Know when a website is suspicious. Know when something is amiss.

5. Perform regular backups. This is vital. If you’re infected with something, you may have to reinstall your operating system and applications. Good backups ensure you don’t lose your data — documents, photographs, music — if that becomes necessary.

That’s basically it. I could give a longer list of safe computing practices, but this short one is likely to keep you safe. After that, trust the vendors. They spent all last month scrambling to fix the SSL vulnerability, and they’ll spend all this month scrambling to fix whatever new vulnerabilities are discovered. Let that be their problem.

Posted on December 10, 2009 at 1:13 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.