FYI NSA BTW – WIF Invasion of Privacy

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Intrusive Programs

Run by

the NSA

Before Edward Snowden revealed us an unprecedented amount of the National Security Agency’s activities in 2013, most of us were only vaguely familiar with the shadowy organization and its information-gathering ways. The NSA has its tendrils in virtually every digital aspect of our daily life, to the point that one of their automated information-collecting programs is probably reading this right now (Hi!) and trying to figure out whether we’re a threat to national security (We really aren’t!).

While reports of their current activities are understandably few and far between, thanks to Mr. Snowden and his leaked documents we do have some insight into the things the NSA were up to in 2013 and before that … and it’s not pretty. Here’s a look at some of the agency’s strangest antics.

10. Angry Birds

No, it’s not just a fun code name, or, for that matter, even code name. It’s that Angry Birds.

In 2014, the Guardian reported that the NSA, along with its significantly less catchy British counterpart GCHQ, were looking into various techniques where they can sneak all up the “leaks” of your favorite phone apps, up to and very much including the world’s premier “Birds Vs. Pigs” game. The idea was to slip through the security cracks of the apps in order to reach the users’ personal data, which would provide the agencies with a number of significant advantages. They would gain access to a huge amount of the kind of data that would allow them to exploit people’s phone information on a mass scale, instead of just having to hack their way into our phones one by one like some commoner. Location, as well: When you use Google Maps to find a place, the NSA can use it to find you.

The NSA seems to put great value on such technology, to the point where one 2010 presentation called it a “Golden Nugget” before rattling off a long list of information the agency could gather from just a single picture uploaded on social media. Fortunately, this plan was among the documents Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, so at least we’re aware that some of America’s taxpayer dollars go towards surreptitiously scrolling through your contact lists as you play Candy Crush or whatever.

9. Boundless Informant

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Congress has occasionally challenged the NSA about what they do with all the data they collect from American citizens. One of the agency’s go-to defenses has been that they have no way of keeping track of the waves of information crashing on their shores, but in 2013, it turned out that a secretive agency might, in fact, have been lying about its methods. It’s shocking, we know.

Boundless Informant is a highly sophisticated data mining tool the NSA uses to analyze and record its surveillance information. It’s essentially a hyper-competent archivist that sifts through the sea of data and arranges it to neat folders. However, it doesn’t appear to do it by user — unless they decide to take a personal interest in you, Boundless Informant probably doesn’t have a folder of your most embarrassing emails and IMs. Instead, the system sifts through the incoming information by “counting and categorizing” the communications records metadata (sets of data that describe other data). However, the level of detail it goes to even includes individual IP addresses … which, as you may know, can totally be tracked down to the countries they’re from.

8. Dishfire

SMS texting is slowly but steadily going the way of the dodo as instant messaging platforms are taking over, but the NSA has been collecting them like they were coming back in fashion. According to the 2013 data leak, the Dishfire program performs a daily, global and supposedly untargeted sweep of SMS messages, and took them to a second program called Prefer, which automatically analyzed them for assorted red flags.

The agency was head over heels about this particular avenue of information collection, to the point where a 2011 presentation was titled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit.” They weren’t exactly wrong, either: automated messages, international roaming charge texts, missed call alerts, electronic business cards and text-to-text payments gave them access to unprecedentedly clear metadata in ridiculous droves.

To put the scale of the operations in context, at the time of the leaks the NSA was able to collect over five million missed-call alerts (for contact chaining analysis), Around 800,000 money transactions, 1.6 million border crossings, over 110,000 names, 76,000 people’s real-time locations, and a total of nearly 200 million SMS messages. Per day. 

7. Egoistical Goat and its friends

The anonymous Tor network is obviously a bit of a problem for an information-gathering entity like the NSA, but it appears the agency had already made some progress to lift the veil of secrecy as early as in 2013.

To crack down Tor’s information safe, the agency created a number of programs with increasingly stupid names, all lovingly crafted to compromise Tor user anonymity. There was Egoistical Goat and its sister programs Egoistical Giraffe and Erroneous Identity, which tried to worm their way in the Firefox parts of the Tor Bundles in order to identify users. Before them, the NSA had Mjoliner, which was meant to divert Tor users to insecure channels, and a marking operation called Mullenize, which was the online equivalent of a surveillance helicopter trying to shoot a tracking device in a car before it drives in a hidden tunnel. Meanwhile, NSA’s British version, GCHQ, did its level best to outdo its American counterpart’s ridiculous code names by trying to crack Tor with operations called Epicfail and Onionbreath.

Despite all their antics, the NSA’s success rate at identifying Tor users was spotty at best — but really, who knows what they have come up with since 2013?

6. GILGAMESH

It’s one thing for the NSA to want to know about people’s information, and completely another to use that information to find out your location and giving it to the Joint Security Operations Command in case they need to bomb someone. This explosive application of NSA tracking technology is called GILGAMESH, and it’s essentially what would happen if a bunch of NSA’s geolocation tracking technologies married a Predator drone.

Thanks to the vast array of online information available to them, the NSA has taken to recommending drone targets with complex metadata analysis instead of relying on human intelligence. However, the Intercept points out that while the tactic has had some success it has by no means been particularly accurate and reliable. One drone pilot operating with NSA-dictated targets has admitted it “absolutely” has resulted in innocent people getting killed.

5. Optic Nerve

To be fair, Optic Nerve was technically a brainchild of the British GCHQ, but since they NSA happily assisted in it, we’ll let it slide. It was a code-name for a surveillance program that surreptitiously collected a bunch of images from Yahoo’s webcam chats from all over the world by the million, with little to no regard whether the people they were collecting them from were persons of interest or not.  This might be pretty creepy in and of itself, but becomes doubly so when you remember the sort of stuff that tends to go on in webcam chats. Yes, we’re talking about nudity, and judging by the scale of the operation, there must have been plenty of it, too. In fact, leaked documents reveal that the GCHQ actually had some trouble keeping all the naked pictures away from the interested eyes of its employees, which in a way is even scarier than just stealing images in bulk.

Understandably, Yahoo was less than thrilled to find out about the situation, which they say happened only when the British media reached out to ask some questions. The company called Optic Nerve a “whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy,” and really, it’s hard to argue with them.

4. PRISM

PRISM is massive surveillance program that started in 2007 and came into light when the Washington Post and the Guardian whipped out a pile of leaked documents in 2013. Technically, PRISM was/is a system for monitoring foreign communication passing through American servers. However, in practice, they monitored everything they humanly could, and gathered their data from “providers” that you might be familiar with.

As of 2013, tiny little companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and the like had to hand the NSA remarkable access to their servers, and the vast buckets of data from their users that lays within. NSA can use this giant pool of information to a terrifying accuracy, to the point where they could just directly access your — yes, specifically your — information and spy on every little thing you do online. The only caveat is that some analyst in their machinery has to vouch that they’re, like, 51% sure that you’re probably foreign, maybe.

3. Upstream

If you thought the NSA was happy just spying what you do on the internet, worry not — there’s more to come. Upstream is basically the same deal as PRISM, only with telecommunications companies such as Verizon and AT&T … and in a much more classic “spying” capacity. Where PRISM relies on intangible tech shenanigans of the “access to big company servers” variety, project Upstream has physically installed a host of surveillance equipment to the internet’s physical “backbone”: the routers, cables and other gear that carry all the online traffic.

The NSA uses this infiltration to track down specific keywords related to potential foreign intelligence activity, though even this noble-ish intent is rendered moot by the fact that they also often target the media, legal attorneys and human rights people instead of just supposed spies and suspected terrorists. The American Civil Rights Union has called the practice “unprecedented and unlawful.”

2. Bullrun

What good is stealing data from countless unwary people if you don’t know what to do with it? The NSA answered this question with code-name Bullrun, a state-of-the-art decryption program that can straight up decode the encryption used by several prominent providers, which means they can read your emails with the greatest of ease should the need arise. This powerful Sigint (signals intelligence) weapon is built by stealthily working with large tech companies to install weaknesses in their products, and then exploiting these openings with their own decryption tools. This way, the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ are able to browse through not only their targets’ emails, but banking accounts and medical history as well. Essentially, if you have personal information online, Bullrun can find out how to decrypt it.

Bullrun’s importance to the NSA can easily be seen by looking at its budget: When Edward Snowden brought the system out in the open in 2013, PRISM’s operating costs were around $20 million a year. Bullrun? Over $250 million.

1. FASCIA

The FASCIA database was among the more interesting documents Edwards Snowden leaked. It was a massive collection of metadata, consisting of all sorts of call information, IP addresses and suchlike. What made the project so impressive(ly scary) was its sheer scale: Though the document dates back to January 2004, it said that FASCIA II had over 85 billion metadata records, and an estimated 125 million were added on a daily basis. Leaked graphs (like the one above) indicate that the system has since evolved, and in 2012, FASCIA already received five billion device-location records every day. There’s no telling what that number is now, but smart money would probably say that it’s significantly larger.

The NSA started getting hold of all this metadata during the War on Terror by straight up forcing phone companies to hand it over to the agency. Originally, this data included pretty intimate stuff, such as the numbers you called and the duration of said calls, though not the actual content. In 2015, the process was slightly changed so that the NSA could only collect bulk metadata and looking at an individual person’s records would require a court order. Even so, the NSA has been known to call this system one of their “most useful tools,” and they say it has even helped them capture multiple terror suspects.


FYI NSA BTW –

WIF Invasion of Privacy

North Korean Dreamin’ – WIF Underground

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The Most Secure

Bunkers in

the World

Heavily guarded buildings are awesome, and what buildings are better guarded than bunkers? These man-made cave complexes are custom designed to keep out everything that’s not invited in, and they’re often equipped with fantastic defenses and luxurious amenities that are a far cry from the brutal underground concrete boxes you probably imagine when you think of the word “bunker.” Let’s take a look at some of the most impressive ones out there!

10. The Nike missile bunker

The Nike missile bunkers (no relation to the sportswear manufacturer, as far as we know) were a pair of Cold War-era bunkers that were so secure, they were actually as effective offensively as they were defensively — if not more. The Nike bunker location started out as a strategic spot that defended the nearby Hanford Nuclear Facility, which is (in)famous for churning out two thirds of the plutonium used in U.S. nuclear weapons, including the plutonium used in the first atomic bomb that was tested in New Mexico in July 1945.

The bunkers were arguably at their mightiest from 1955 to 1958, when they housed a sophisticated air defense system of Ajax and Hercules missiles under the designation of “H-52.” The bunkers were later refashioned into an emergency operations center and, more recently, a Gravitation Physics Laboratory that was rendered in-operational in 2011. However, the legacy of Nike missile bunkers lives on in the Golden Gate Recreational Area in California, which houses a reconstructed Nike site that is open for public tours.

9. The Sonnenberg bunker

Every European and North American country worth its salt has a nuclear bunker or six thousand lying around, but few have gone as far as Switzerland. The alpine country is the home of Sonnenberg Bunker, an unassuming pair of mile-long motorway tunnels that can transform into a massive fallout shelter by closing the 350-ton blast doors at both ends.

The tunnels and the bunker complex hidden within them lie under the town of Lucerne, and was designed to house 20,000 people in the event of the nuclear threat everyone was afraid of at the time. However, soon after its completion in 1976, the Sonnenberg Bunker turned out to be a little less efficient than advertised. While it was highly secure and could technically house the amount of people it was supposed to, provisions were a problem. Since the kitchen facilities could only feed the bunker staff and the hospital, almost everyone taking cover inside it would’ve had to bring their own food with them — and store said food on the tiny bunk bed they were also supposed to sleep in. There was also the small matter that it took a whopping two weeks to close the blast doors and get the bunker operational, which seems a little slow for a structure that exists specifically to shelter people from a disaster that could come with precious little notice.

Despite its flaws, the Sonnenberg Bunker remains operational, though only at a fraction of its intended capacity: In 2006, it was wisely downsized to only accommodate 2,000 people.

8. Survival Condo Project

Survival isn’t just a primal instinct. For some people, it’s a chance to turn in a sweet profit. Larry Hall is one of these entrepreneurial spirits, as evidenced by his Survival Condo Project, which combines luxurious accommodations with all the Armageddon-proof safety that a nuclear missile silo can provide. In 2008, Hall coughed up $300,000 for an old nuclear missile silo in Kansas, and spent a further $20 million to turn it into a series of luxurious homes, complete with communal spaces and luxuries such as swimming pools and cinemas. Hall even has plans to open a small grocery store within the complex.

Homes in the Survival Condo Project start from $1.5 million — well, started, since they were all sold out way back in 2012 — and apart from their underground location they’re virtually indistinguishable from your average inner-city apartment, complete with all the expected amenities such as dishwashers and washing machines. There are even LED screen “windows” that show live feed from the prairie range outside, though it’s probably safe to assume their view will be significantly less idyllic if the bunker is ever put to serious use.

7. Vivos xPoint

Somewhere in the Black Hills area of South Dakota, near the city of Edgemont, there’s a vast field where sturdy concrete bunkers litter the land like molehills. These 575 identical structures are Vivos xPoint, a luxury “survival community” for the people able and willing to tie themselves down to a down payment of $25,000 and a 99-year annual lease of $1,000. For that price, you get a barren bunker in one of the statistically safest locations in North America, ready to ride out whatever shelter-worthy disaster might strike.

While you’re free to ride out future disasters in an unfurnished concrete hole, the company also offers all sorts of luxurious refurbishments for your bunker — for a price, of course. They also offer “24/7 security” in the shape of trained guards and camera systems, and should the doomsday scenario allow you to exit the bunker every once in a while, there are also amenities such as a shooting range and a hot tub spa.

6. The Houston Bunker

The owners of the Houston Bunker (or “The Bunker” for short) claim that the site has “perhaps the most interesting history of any data center ever built.” While this may or may not be true, there’s no denying that the complex has a pretty wild past. Unlike your average converted Cold War -era nuclear shelter, the Bunker is a relatively young structure: A man called Louis Kung built it in 1982 as part of a supposed HQ for his Westland Oil company. The construction site was extremely secretive — armed guards and all — which is why most people didn’t know that Kung’s building also included a massive nuke-proof bunker.

Kung’s bunker was meant to save the families of Westland Oil employees (and, of course, that of Kung himself) from large-scale disaster, and it was equipped to house 350 people for three months. Apart from the usual nuclear shelter amenities such as filtration systems, water reservoirs and medical facilities, it seems Kung was also prepared for various Mad Max-style scenarios, seeing as he equipped the complex with machine gun nests and prison cells. Even the mundane office building parts of his structure featured bulletproof glass, emergency generators and other end-of-the-world features.

While Kung’s apocalyptic fears never came to be, the sturdy structure of the Bunker came in handy later, when the building got a new life as a data security center. In this role, the structure has proved its worth by surviving disasters such as hurricane Ike with zero system downtime.

5. Europa One

Remember Vivos, the company behind the xPoint bunker community? Turns out, they can do one better. When storms of fire one day raze the world, Europa One is where billionaires will go to ride things out. This giant structure in Rothenstein, Germany is an old Soviet Cold War bunker that has been converted into an underground city of unparalleled luxury that can be compared to a five-star cruise ship. Opulent swimming pools, stylish art galleries, comfortable cinemas, elegant bars and medieval-style cathedral spaces litter the complex, and if you don’t feel like hanging out in the communal spaces, you can always retire to your private accommodations, which with their plasma TVs and bedroom aquariums are not unlike a presidential suite.

It’s pointless to ask how much it costs to enter this lap of luxury, because if you have to ask you almost certainly can’t afford it. Even if you can, entrance is by no means guaranteed. First, a potential Europa One resident has to apply for Vivos “membership,” after which they’re moved to a vast pool of prospects, from which the company selects “best candidates” for the shelter.

4. The Shanghai Complex

It might be wise to take the stories about Shanghai’s massive underground bunker with a grain of salt, since it appears most reports of its existence are from 2006 and can be traced back to a single article by the Shanghai Morning Post. Still, even if just a fraction of its scale is true, it’s a massive feat of engineering that easily earns a place on this list. We’re talking about a colossal, nuclear-proof, million-square-foot bunker complex that can house a reported 200,000 people for up to two weeks. “Miles of tunnels” connect the shelter to a number of buildings, shopping centers, and the city’s subway system.

While the scale and existence of this particular shelter might be debatable (even the Shanghai Morning Post article didn’t go into too many specifics), it wouldn’t be too surprising to find out it’s real. After all, there’s no denying that China’s large cities have a long history of large-scale bunker building, and Shanghai alone built many large shelter complexes during the Cold War. To get a sense of the scale, you only need to take a look at another large Chinese city, Beijing, where an estimated million people live in the city’s old, forgotten nuclear shelters.

3. Burlington bunker

At first glance, the Burlington bunker seems less like a real location and more like a video game level. Located 100 feet under the cobblestones of the quintessentially English small town of Corsham, this massive complex is a little bit larger than your average doomsday prepper’s concrete bunker: A full-on 1950s “Cold War City” that features an insanely complex, mile-long labyrinth of nuke-proof underground structures and 60 miles of criss-crossing subterranean roads. The climate-controlled location was designed to house up to 4,000 people, ran on massive generators that powered over 100,000 lights, and was chosen because a vast network of natural limestone caves that was already running under Corsham.

The Burlington bunker’s amenities include usual Armageddon fare such as control rooms, kitchens, storage rooms and a pneumatic tube system for messages. It also features a hospital, the second largest phone exchange in Great Britain and, of course, an underwater lake that supplies the drinking water. A fully equipped TV studio allows whoever’s left of the government (and, for that matter, the British royals) to address the people, which is why the site used to feature a secret rail line that forked from the main line between London and Bristol.

People only learned of the top secret Burlington bunker’s existence after it was decommissioned in 2004, at which point most of its supplies had been drained and a small staff of four people was running the entire bunker.

2. Raven Rock

Where does the Department of Defense go when things get really hairy? Like, “actual bombs are falling on the Pentagon” serious? The answer is Raven Rock. This mountain complex, which is also known as Site R, was built underneath Pennsylvania’s Blue Ridge mountains, and is connected to Camp David (the country retreat of the President of the United States) with a 6.5-mile tunnel in case the POTUS needs evacuating as well.

Raven Rock is basically every Cold War -era fear rolled into one giant bunker complex, which comes as no surprise seeing as it was built between 1951 and 1953 — the heyday of the post-WWII Red Scare. It’s basically the Pentagon, but as a huge, ultra-safe underground structure that was (at least theoretically) self-sufficient enough to shelter the country’s best and brightest for an indeterminate period of time. Some of its tunnels are large enough to house several large buildings that, in turn, are designed to house hundreds of high-ranking folks. The site also has its own power plant, two water reservoirs, and even a well-stocked bar. Being a military project, its price tag was equally impressive — its original budget of $35 million eventually ballooned into $350 million, adjusted for inflation.

Despite all of its obsolete Cold War glory, Raven Rock remains fully staffed even today. It was even used for emergency evacuation during the 9/11 attacks, when Vice President Dick Cheney sought shelter there. However, it’s hardly a top secret location — in fact, the Obama administration even started offering tours of the site as part of their “Weekend at Camp David” program.

1. The Oppidum

And then there is the Oppidum. Where other luxury bunkers stuff their underground complexes with high-end features and millionaire opulence, this super-secure compound in the Czech Republic takes things even further.  Apart from the five-star nuclear bunker comfort you’d expect at this point of the list, the Oppidum’s living quarters are two-part affair where you can go from living in your palatial above-ground residence to an equally lush underground bunker, which can be sealed with a sturdy blast door in under a minute.

Because the whole structure is surrounded by mountains and located in a peaceful country with no ready enemies, it’s unlikely to be nuked to oblivion in the first place, but should the situation demand taking things underground, the massive two-level bunker is reportedly the most luxurious “residential doomsday shelter” in the world. Incidentally, it’s also the largest, at a ridiculous 323,000 square feet. The Oppidum isn’t shy about using all that space for sheer extravagance, either; apart from unexpectedly fancy living quarters, the complex features amenities such as a spa, a wine cellar, and even a nice garden with “simulated natural light.” Oh, and to protect the luxury compound from attacks by mutants of the radioactive post-apocalyptic wasteland, the Oppidum also features state-of-the-art defense systems, ranging from high walls and sensors to “automated defense technology.”


North Korean Dreamin’ –

WIF Underground