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NSA Angry Birds Help the Government Spy on Your Intimate Details

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nsa birdsNSA Angry Birds are Stalking You

So you’ve had a rough day at the office.  You plop down on your couch with a cold beverage nearby, ready to let the day go.  You have twenty minutes until your chicken pot pie dings, and the thought of chicken reminds you of, well… Angry Birds. Harmless fun. NOT!

While you may be enjoying a mindless game, somewhere far off in cyber land others are just beginning to work very hard.  WHO THEY ARE: advertising companies and intelligence agencies alike. WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO YOU: gathering all of the most personal data off of your mobile device: everything from your name, age, sex, location, and perhaps even your political alignment or sexual orientation—and lots more!

All of this is according to documents provided by the former National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden to the New York Times.  Snowden asserts that the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters have been able to gather information from so-called “leaky apps” that give out all sorts of unintended intelligence.

Through these leaks, intelligence agencies and advertising groups are able to collect and store information on location and planning data through use of Google Maps, and access your address books, buddy lists, and telephone logs through use of posts to sites such as Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Twitter placed on mobile devices. 

It turns out that Big Brother is actually an NSA Angry Bird. I don’t know whether to be more upset with the NSA for scraping this information from Apps, or with the Apps themselves for scraping this information without even telling us!

This top secret NSA document (one of many released by Snowden) shows some of the activities that can be searched.

NSA top secret chart

It’s pretty much understood and accepted that apps (especially older ones) track locations and gather other data to pass on to mobile ad companies.  And we’ve known for some time that the NSA has been pursuing our mobile information, but these documents show us many more details of the “mobile surge” and the ambitious plans the agency has for using the information they gather from apps on smartphones.

Every time you use a smartphone, you need to remember you’re also really using a computer- a highly-sophisticated, highly vulnerable computer.   According to Philippe Langlois, who has studied the vulnerabilities of mobile phone networks and is the founder of the Paris-based company Priority One Security, “By having these devices in our pockets and using them more and more, you’re somehow becoming a sensor for the world intelligence community.” In other words, we are all spies for anyone who has access to our mobile phones, which includes pretty much every app we have.

So what’t the solution? None, as of right now. Until there is legislation governing what can be captured from our mobile phones, we are open game, so to speak. And that makes me angry.

John Sileo is an author and highly entertaining speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on Rachael Ray, 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Privacy Expert: NSA Intercepting Your Address Books, Buddy Lists

Snowden_Leak_Tip_of_the_Iceberg_of_NSA_Surveillance_Program__141492What makes a privacy expert nervous? Glimpsing the size of the iceberg under the surface. When National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden became a whistle blower earlier this year, I think we all knew we were really just seeing the tip of the iceberg about exactly how much information the NSA was gathering on the average American citizen.  And it was a pretty large tip to start with.

Here’s a reminder of what started the whole thing.  Snowden provided reporters at The Guardian and The Washington Post with top-secret documents detailing two NSA surveillance programs being carried out by the U.S. Government, all without the average voter’s knowledge. One gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records and the second allows the government to access nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all domestic Internet usage (so they are tapping pieces of your phone calls and emails, in other words). The intent of each program respectively is to use meta-data (information about the numbers being called, length of call, etc., but not the conversation itself, as far as we know) to detect links to known terrorist targets abroad and to detect suspicious behavior (by monitoring emails, texts, social media posts, instant messaging, chat rooms, etc.) that begins overseas. As a privacy expert, I understand the need to detect connections among terrorists; the troubling part is the scope of the information being gathered. Read more

Keeping Grounded When the Surveillance Accusations Start to Fly

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NSAI’m in the business of encouraging people to keep their guard up.  I’m always telling people to watch for signs of something that doesn’t feel quite right, take precautionary measures, and stay informed.  But even I have to question the tactics some are recommending when it comes to reacting to the NSA PRISM surveillance program leaked by Edward Snowden.  In a previous post on this topic, I said it isn’t a black or white argument, but some people are asking you to make it one.

Best-selling author, technology expert and Columbia Law School professor, Tim Wu, has said that web users have a responsibility to quit Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo and Skype if it is indeed verified that they have been collaborating with the NSA.  In fact, Wu bluntly proclaimed, “Quit Facebook and use another search engine. It’s simple.  It’s nice to keep in touch with your friends. But I think if you find out if it’s true that these companies are involved in these surveillance programs you should just quit.”  Wu acknowledged that there is still much to learn about this program and admitted it was no surprise that PRISM exists, saying, “When you have enormous concentrations of data in a few hands, spying becomes very easy.”

Of course, the companies in question vehemently deny such complicit cooperation.  Google CEO Larry Page stated, “any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ Internet activity on such a scale is completely false.  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said reports of Facebook’s involvement are “outrageous,” adding  “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers.”  Yahoo’s Ron Bell stated, “The notion that Yahoo! gives any federal agency vast or unfettered access to our users’ records is categorically false.”  Similar statements were issued by from spokespersons for Apple, Microsoft and others accused of complying.

To add fuel to the fire of this debate, top US intelligence officials have stepped forth with their own comments.  US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asserts the National Security Agency’s PRISM program is “not an undisclosed collection or data mining program” but instead “an internal government computer system used to facilitate the government’s statutorily authorized collection of foreign intelligence information.”

In addition, claims that the sweeping surveillance programs have prevented multiple attacks keep swelling.  Immediately following the leak, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers cited one attack that he said was thwarted by the program, but would not give specifics.  Since that time, however, there have been dozens of reports of foiled terrorist attempts, from a plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange to an attack against the New York subway system, that were prevented because of the surveillance.  Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said more than 50 attacks have been averted.  Alexander also stated that Snowden’s leaks have caused “irreversible and significant damage to this nation” and undermined the U.S. relationship with allies.

No doubt, the debate over the propriety, as well as the effect, of Snowden’s actions will rage on for some time.  There will be others who recommend and take drastic actions, such as quitting the Internet giants, for fear of their safety and/or privacy.  The key is to keep cool, find the facts and then NOT forget. The biggest risk is that our discomfort will be forgotten in a week when the next big topic arises. You can take the reasonable steps of doing your research, acting in calculated moderation and following through on what YOU feel is important.

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.

Snowden chills in Hong Kong as we boil like frogs in a stew of NSA surveillance

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snowden-hk-papers,jpgDo you value national security? Do you want to live free of fear from random terrorist acts like the Boston Marathon bombing? Do you value your privacy? Should you be allowed to act in legal ways without others (namely, the government) digitally eavesdropping on your secrets?

A former data spy is asking us to decide where we stand on the spectrum separating security and privacy. Edward Snowden, 29, a former contractor to the National Security Agency (the guys and gals in charge of wire-tapping phones and internet traffic) and an employee of the CIA, leaked classified documents to reporters about two far-reaching U.S. surveillance programs. Fearing government reprisal, Snowden is hiding in Hong Kong, a country he believes has “a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent”.

Here’s what happened. Snowden provided reporters at The Guardian and The Washington Post with top-secret documents detailing two NSA surveillance programs being carried out by the U.S. Government, all without the average voter’s knowledge. One gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records and the second allows the government to access nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all domestic Internet usage (your phone calls and emails, in other words). The intent of each program respectively is to use meta-data (information about the numbers being called, length of call, etc., but not the conversation itself, as far as we know) to detect links to known terrorist targets abroad and to detect suspicious behavior (by monitoring emails, texts, social media posts, instant messaging, chat rooms, etc.) that begins overseas.

In other words, close to 100% of our phone calls and internet communications are being digitally sniffed, even if we are innocent, to expose the .01% of terrorists among us. The means (ubiquitous digital surveillance) don’t seem to justify the ends (less terrorism), UNLESS it’s your child or spouse that dies in a 9/11 attack, and then you tend to fall on the side of national security while privacy seems little more than a luxury.

I’m simply saying that this isn’t a black or white argument. The right answer lies in the gray area between security and privacy – a place where checks and balances, bi-partisan oversight and transparency keep our leaders from overstepping the line that divides the highly effective from the clearly unethical.

The decision to go public on Snowden’s part came after many years of deliberation because he felt an obligation to inform the public of “the greatest danger to our freedom and way of life.”  While Director of National Intelligence James Clapper counters that they do not target U.S. citizens, Snowden maintains that there is still a good chance the system will be abused. He states, “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with.” In other words, if we don’t control the degree to which our private information is now collected in small, apparently insignificant pieces, the surveillance stew will have parboiled our privacy before we fully recognize what has happened.

Snowden’s actions have put the Obama administration into defensive mode, having to justify the legal grounds for secret phone snooping and data mining. Chief White House correspondent Major Garrett said, “…the White House has had to admit a politically and tactically startling truth: It conducts more surveillance than the Bush White House.

House Republican leader Rep. Eric Cantor, acknowledging that the NSA programs, as set up, were legal, said that an investigation this week on Capitol Hill into the NSA programs “will be very serious, obviously. We’ll be dealing with a balance between national security and safeguarding our civil liberties.”

Snowden has stated that he will not hide despite the fact that the government could charge him with treason and he may face years in prison for his actions.  He is even aware there could be threats to his life, stating (I will be) “made to suffer for my actions, and that the return of this information to the public marks my end”. He is hopeful Hong Kong will refuse to extradite him, and he will “ask for asylum from any countries that believe in free speech and oppose the victimization of global privacy.”

At the risk of boiling a cliché to death, is Snowden a traitor, or just a sacrificial frog willing to take the heat on our behalf?

John Sileo is a keynote speaker and CEO of The Sileo Group, a privacy think tank that trains organizations to harness the power of their digital footprint. Sileo’s clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and businesses looking to protect the information that makes them profitable.

Certified Speaking Professional – Sileo Earns CSP from National Speakers Association

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I love my job as a keynote speaker. To be honored as one of only 570 Certified Speaking Professionals on the planet this past month was icing on the cake, and confirmation that we’d finally made it through that which almost destroyed our family.

Just a few years ago I thought I might go to jail for crimes that someone else committed using my identity. I lost nearly everything, including my business, my reputation and lots of money. Who would have thought then that all of the pain we experienced as a family would be turned into a highly satisfying career as an author and professional keynote speaker? Every day I get to go to work with the enviable conviction of empowering people to protect their privacy from identity theft, social media exposure and human manipulation. I get to steer people and corporations away from making the significant mistakes I did. It is vastly fulfilling.

And now, after five hard years on the speaking circuit, to be awarded the CSP by such highly accomplished peers in NSA, the National Speakers Association, satisfies me beyond words. If you’ve heard the details of my story and know how much it cost my family (I was basically absent in their lives for two full years), you’ll especially love how elegantly everything has come full circle. Sophie (my daughter, and the person who woke me out of my victim-induced stupor to become an author and a speaker), whispered to my row of supporters just as I was walking across the stage, “everyone stand up when dad gets his award.”

What she might not have known was that I was accepting the certification in honor of her, in honor of all of the family and friends that held me up in tough times (a special thanks to Mary, my wife and the love of my life). I get all the benefits of the CSP, but they deserve most of the credit. As Brad Montgomery, CSP, motivational humorist and my good friend, explained it:

“Getting your CSP doesn’t guarantee more bookings (well, maybe it does). But either way, it does mean that you’ve performed at the highest speaking level for five straight years – only 1% of all speakers worldwide get one! Also, I get to wear a medal and my kids think I’m cool… for the first day… and then I’m a dork.”

 

Another close friend, Steve Spangler, CSP CPAE said “I remember attending my first NSA convention in 2000 and being blown away by the wealth of talent and expertise in one place.” Being part of that group isn’t just good for the ego, it is the honor of a lifetime. Thanks to all of you for being part of the process.

What is NSA and what does the CSP really mean?

NSA, the National Speakers Association, is the leading organization for professional speakers not only in the U.S., but in the world.  CSP is an indicator in the speaking profession that you have achieved a standard set by the leading industry authority.

The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation, conferred by the National Speakers Association and the Internationl Federation for Professional Speakers, is the speaking profession’s international measure of professional platform skill.  The CSP designation is earned through demonstrating competence in a combination of standards: Professional platform skills, professional business management, professional education and professional association. For more information, visit NSAspeaker.org.