DeepSec 2015 Keynote: Can Societies manage the SIGINT Monster?

René Pfeiffer/ October 27, 2015/ Conference, Discussion

Gathering data has become very important in the past years. Everyone is talking about intelligence of all shades, few know what it actually means and how you do it properly (we got a workshop for that, if you are interested). Information security needs to anticipate threats and adapt the defences accordingly. The same is true for other areas where security plays an important role, such as national defence. There are also new threats. Surveillance systems expand steadily, and the facts about them were published after 2013. The impact effects all of us, especially companies moving data around and communicating digitally. Although is it difficult to gauge what it means for your daily business, you should not close your eyes and assume that it is somebody else’s problem. We have asked Duncan Campbell to paint a picture of the current state of affairs. Try to see yourself in it, and deduce what it means for your business and customer relations.

Behind closed doors, ubiquitous surveillance systems have evolved in parallel to and hidden within the global communications infrastructure. Developments in signals intelligence (SIGINT) technology and tradecraft have shadowed all new telecommunications developments. SIGINT agencies have covertly sought to lead, change, and subvert arrangements that IT practitioners make for security and privacy.

Partly in consequence, in this decade, we have entered a period of frequent massive and damaging data losses.

Within the closed world of intelligence, leaked material suggests, there has been an arrogance born of lack of challenge and scrutiny and perhaps most tellingly summarized by the hubris that “Nobody But Us” (NOBUS) could be clever enough to do what they do breaking into computers and systems.

Duncan Campbell has spent 40 years bringing the secrets of SIGINT into the open, facing imprisonment and decades of official harassment. He has also worked as a computer forensic expert, looking inside terrorists computers, which he presented at DeepSec in 2011.

In this talk, he will review the history of mass electronic surveillance in the post Edward Snowden world, and the technical challenges that can be examined with the benefit of new information.

The scale and intrusiveness of what has been found baked into the Internet has taken everyone by surprise. But there was no magic at work. Instead, the security of the Internet and all connected to it has been broken by familiar, understandable techniques and technologies. Now we know their names.

In the transitions from analogue to digital, from the first days of C2C (“computer-to-computer”) spying to DNI (Digital Network Intelligence) today, from the first automated surveillance system to today’s multinational behemoths, common tools are still in use 50 years after they were first invented. This talk will help dissect the obscure tradecraft terms that mask and obfuscate how SIGINT works.

What can be achieved by understanding the evolution of SIGINT tradecraft?

In particular, can “mass surveillance”, which advocates prefer to call “bulk collection” and justify as needed for target development, be managed by technical means, within an open, regulated society?

Need the frequently cited tradeoff between security and privacy be a zero sum game?

What can we learn from looking through the new doors on the dark world of communication intelligence?

We recommend Duncan’s keynote for everyone working in information technology. When you plan your defence, you should start with threat modelling; and the facts about surveillance cover the very infrastructure your IT department relies on. It doesn’t stop there, so make sure you get a good look at the Big Picture.

duncan_campbellDuncan Campbell is an investigative journalist, author, consultant and television producer specialising in privacy, civil liberties and surveillance issues. His best-known investigations led to major legal clashes with successive British governments.  Campbell now also works and is recognised as a forensic expert witness on computers and communications data.  He has providing specialist testimony in over a hundred criminal and civil cases and has given evidence to the House of Commons and the European Parliament on surveillance legislation.For over three decades, he has produced and researched in-depth reports for television, print and online media. His award-winning work into topics including government secrecy, corporate crime and medical fraud has earned critical acclaim and provoked legal challenges. He has published on a wide range of subjects in leading UK newspapers including the Guardian, Observer, Sunday Times, Independent, Mail on Sunday, Daily Express.

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About René Pfeiffer

System administrator, lecturer, hacker, security consultant, technical writer and DeepSec organisation team member. Has done some particle physics, too. Prefers encrypted messages for the sake of admiring the mathematical algorithms at work.


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