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By Ather Fawaz
Hundreds arrested, drugs and arms seized in the wake of police infiltration of a texting app
by Ather Fawaz
Following a Europe-wide operation by police forces, more than 800 criminals have been put behind bars and over two tons of drugs, several dozen guns, and £54 million in suspect cash have been seized. To enable this, the National Security Agency (NSA) worked in collaboration with police forces across Europe, including the Europol, to hack a texting application to obtain information about the criminals.
Dubbed 'Operation Venetic,' the mission took root in 2017 and entailed intercepting and decrypting messages on the allegedly secure texting app called EncroChat. By working over customized Android phones, the French app garnered over 60,000 users and provided features like the ability to send self-destructing messages and edit previously-sent messages.
A few months back, police were able to introduce malware into the app that decrypted and exposed the conversations and images of its users who were found to be openly discussing drug deals and other illegal operations on the platform. BBC wrote in its report that:
Last month, reports started surfacing claiming that the app had been compromised by law enforcement agencies via malware. Around the same time, EncroChat sent out a message to its users stating that it can no longer guarantee security and anonymity on the platform.
Image via EncroCchat Consequently, according to reports by police units, people started throwing away their phones but it was too little too late at that point. Law enforcement agencies and police moved swiftly to arrest over 800 criminals, including major crime figures, and seized over two tonnes of drugs, several dozen guns, and £54 million in suspect cash. In the wake of the operation, EncroChat has been shut down as well.
By Jay Bonggolto
Internet giants urge legislators to protect browsing data from warrantless access
by Jay Bonggolto
Technology companies have jointly called on the House of Representatives to pass a legislation that would protect people's internet browsing data and search history from warrantless government access. Such protection was part of an amendment to the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6172) that was rejected by the U.S. Senate last week.
The amendment, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon and Sen. Steve Daines from Montana, would require law enforcers such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain a warrant before gaining access to users' browsing history. That legislation would prevent the use of a provision under the USA Patriot Act that allows the collection of browsing data even without a court warrant. In a joint letter sent to lawmakers, several tech giants and organizations have urged the Congress to include that amendment when they take up H.R. 6172 next week. The alliance includes Mozilla, Twitter, Reddit, Patreon, Engine, Reform Government Alliance, and i2 Coalition. The letter states:
The signatories fear that search and browsing history could expose "detailed portrait of our private lives" such as "medical conditions, religious beliefs, and personal relationships". These details should be "protected by effective legal safeguards," the letter notes.
Google starts charging law enforcement agencies for data requests
by Rajesh Pandey
Google has started charging law enforcement agencies for data requests, with the fees ranging from $45 to $245 depending on the data requested. The move comes in a bid to offset the cost that the company is incurring to comply with the increasing number of users' data requests from various government agencies.
Google is charging law enforcement agencies $45 for a subpoena, $60 for a wiretap, and $245 for a search warrant. The company has sent a notice with the pricing to all government agencies. It also notes that it could charge extra for more complex data requests and situations.
Source: The New York Times Records from 2008 show that Google charged for legal requests but has not charged anything for data requests for years now. The federal law allows private companies to charge government agencies for data requests.
In the first six months of 2019, Google received more than 75,000 data requests worldwide, with 1 out of 3 requests coming from the United States.
Al Gidari, a lawyer who has represented Google and other companies for years, said that the fees could help offset some of the costs associated with complying with legal data requests from government agencies. He also noted that the cost of doing wiretaps and responding to search warrants is high, though Google is only charging $60 for a wiretap order. The move might also act as a deterrent from "excessive surveillance" by government agencies.
It is likely that other companies will also follow Google and start charging government agencies for data requests.
Source: NY Times
By Rich Woods
Apple reportedly doesn't encrypt iCloud backups because the FBI said not to
by Rich Woods
Back in February 2016, there was a long, drawn out, and very public dispute between Apple and law enforcement agencies, where the Cupertino firm was asked by the FBI to unlock the iPhones owned by the San Bernardino shooter. Apple's response was that iPhones are encrypted and it said that it wouldn't help.
What doesn't use end-to-end encryption, however, is your iCloud backup. And as it turns out, at least according to a report from Reuters, that's only because the FBI complained about it. Apple decided that it didn't want to "poke the bear" again.
Not having encryption on iCloud backups makes life a lot easier for law enforcement agencies, as they wouldn't even need access to your iPhone to find out what was on it. Presumably, Apple only turns over this data with a proper warrant.
Apple has long boasted being a champion of user privacy, from the public dispute over the San Bernardino shooter's iPhone, which ended in the FBI having a third-party break into the device, to posting an ad at CES in Las Vegas that said, "What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone". It would seem that this is only the case when the company is in the public spotlight though, as its actions tell a different story behind closed doors.
The firm did plan on offering end-to-end encryption on iCloud backups at one point, but those plans got scrapped. Aside from push-back from the FBI, it was also decided that consumers would be more at risk of losing their data. Once you lose a password to something that's encrypted, it's gone forever, as not even Apple would have been able to access it.
Competitors like Google Drive and Microsoft's OneDrive do use encryption to store all of your stuff, however the latter is clear about how it handles cloud data. Presumably, those companies are under the same pressures as Apple.
According to Reuters, in the first half of last year, Apple handed over full device backups for about six thousand devices in 1,568 cases. For U.S. intelligence court orders in the second half of 2018, the company handed out data from over 14,000 accounts.
Microsoft wins JEDI contract from the U.S. Dept. of Defense
by Paul Hill
The United States Department of Defense has awarded Microsoft with an enterprise general-purpose cloud contract called Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI). The base contract period will last for two years with a $1 million guarantee but spending is likely to increase to around $210 million in those two years, driven by user adoption of the product.
The DOD’s decision to find a firm to offer the contract to has been going on for quite a while now, with Microsoft and Amazon being the only contenders for the contract since at least October 2018. The process has not been smooth sailing with both IBM and Oracle raising issues over the matter. Despite this, the DOD said in its statement that all of the firms who partook were “treated fairly and evaluated consistently”.
Commenting on the news, DOD Chief Information Officer, Dana Deasy, said:
The DOD’s JEDI contract is part of a wider technology overhaul to modernize systems. With JEDI, Microsoft's aim will now be to deliver a product that gives the military better access to data and the cloud from battlefields and other remote areas. On the back of the news, Microsoft’s stock price has risen by more than 3% in after-hours trading.