The secure smartphone that won’t get you beaten with rubber hoses

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

The secure smartphone that won’t get you beaten with rubber hoses
A new take on the secure smartphone, with a secure messaging app to go with it.
By Peter Bright
Oct 15 2014

Interest in secure communications is at an all time high, with many concerned about spying by both governments and corporations. This concern has stimulated developments such as the Blackphone, a custom-designed handset running a forked version of Android that’s built with security in mind.

But the Blackphone has a problem. The mere fact of holding one in your hand advertises to the world that you’re using a Blackphone. That might not be a big problem for people who can safely be assumed to have access to sensitive information—politicians, security contractors, say—but if you’re a journalist investigating your own corrupt government or a dissident fearful of arrest, the Blackphone is a really bad idea. Using such a phone is advertising that you have sensitive material that you’re trying to keep secret and is an invitation to break out the rubber hoses.

That’s what led a team of security researchers to develop DarkMatter, unveiled today at the Hack In The Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur. DarkMatter is a secure Android fork, but unlike Blackphone and its custom hardware, DarkMatter is a secure Android that runs on regular Android phones (including the Galaxy S4 and Nexus 5) and which, at first glance, looks just like it’s stock Android. The special sauce of DarkMatter is secure encrypted storage that selected apps can transparently access. If the firmware believes it’s under attack, the secure storage will be silently dismounted, and the phone will appear, to all intents and purposes, to be a regular non-secure device.

The full details of DarkMatter still aren’t nailed down, and it won’t reach the market until some time next year.

A secure phone is only one of the things that a person needs for secure communications. While there are ways of securing e-mail and instant messaging communications, we’ve written before about the awkwardness that these systems generally impose on their users. They’re annoying to use, especially for things like setting up first contact with someone.

Recognizing the importance of secure messaging to a secure phone, the developer behind DarkMatter, pseudonymous Thailand-based South African security researcher known as the grugq, is releasing a new mobile messaging client that addresses this problem.

The messaging client is built on the foundation provided by Adam Langley’s Pond messaging system. Unlike systems like PGP e-mail or Off-The-Record instant messaging, Pond is designed from the ground up to be a secure messaging protocol. Pond has a few particular features that make it compelling. First, it’s secure by default. It has no non-secure version to fall back to if someone makes a mistake, for example. Message transport is provided over the tor network, effectively masking sender and recipient identities and locations. The messages themselves are fixed length, at just under 16 kilobytes, to prevent detection of traffic patterns.

Second, Pond has a neat solution to the “first contact” problem. Unlike e-mail, Pond communication can only occur between two people who’ve already agreed to communicate; there’s no way of sending unsolicited spam. That two-way communication is established in the first place by mutual agreement of a passphrase, which can be communicated through IM, voice chat, in person, or however else two parties want to share it. Both parties post a (time-limited) message derived from the passphrase to a server and use this to share keys with each other. Once this key sharing has taken place, the passphrase isn’t used, and even if an attacker discovers it, it’s no longer useful.

Third, it’s anonymous. PGP, for example, is tied up with questions of identity. Pond deliberately has no kind of identity system, with the communication between two parties being entirely anonymous.


How Edward Snowden Changed Journalism

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

How Edward Snowden Changed Journalism
Oct 21 2014

“Citizenfour,” the new documentary about Edward Snowden, by Laura Poitras, is, among other things, a work of journalism about journalism. It opens with quotations from correspondence between Poitras and a new source who identifies himself only as Citizenfour. This source turns out to be Snowden. Soon, Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, at the time a columnist for the Guardian, travel to Hong Kong to meet Snowden in a hotel room.

They don’t know, at this point, if Snowden is who he says he is. They don’t know if his materials are authentic. Yet Poitras turns on her camera right away. Greenwald, who attended law school, questions Snowden, quite effectively. Gradually, Snowden’s significance becomes clear. The sequence is enclosing and tense and has many remarkable facets. One is that we witness a historically significant exercise in reporting and source validation as it happens. It is as if Bob Woodward had filmed his initial meeting, in a garage, with Deep Throat.

Snowden comes across in the film as shrewd, tough, and hard to read. (My colleague George Packer, in his recent Profile of Poitras, captures the film’s range brilliantly. Snowden also spoke to Jane Mayer remotely at this year’s New Yorker Festival.) Snowden has said that he had never spoken to a journalist before he contacted Poitras. “I knew nothing of the press,” he told the Guardian last summer. “I was a virgin source, basically.” This is not entirely persuasive: he may never have talked to a journalist, but he behaved with exceptional sophistication, both then and later— he is very far from the proverbial “naïve source.”

In fact, one of the least remarked upon aspects of the Snowden matter is that he has influenced journalistic practice for the better by his example as a source. Famously, when Snowden first contacted Greenwald, he insisted that the columnist communicate only through encrypted channels. Greenwald couldn’t be bothered. Only later, when Poitras told Greenwald that he should take the trouble, did Snowden take him on as an interlocutor.

It had been evident for some time before Snowden surfaced that best practices in investigative reporting and source protection needed to change—in large part, because of the migration of journalism (and so many other aspects of life) into digital channels. The third reporter Snowden supplied with National Security Agency files, Barton Gellman, of the Washington Post, was well known in his newsroom as an early adopter of encryption. But it has been a difficult evolution, for a number of reasons.

Reporters communicate copiously; encryption makes that habit more cumbersome. Most reporters don’t have the technical skills to make decisions on their own about what practices are effective and efficient. Training is improving (the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, at Columbia Journalism School, where I serve as dean, offers a useful place to start), but the same digital revolution that gave rise to surveillance and sources like Snowden also disrupted incumbent newspapers and undermined their business models. Training budgets shrank. In such an unstable economic and audience environment, source protection and the integrity of independent reporting fell on some newsrooms’ priority lists.

Snowden has now provided a highly visible example of how, in a very high-stakes situation, encryption can, at a minimum, create time and space for independent journalistic decision-making about what to publish and why. Snowden did not ask to have his identity protected for more than a few days—he seemed to think it wouldn’t work for longer than that, and he also seemed to want to reveal himself to the public. Yet the steps he took to protect his data and his communications with journalists made it possible for the Guardianand the Post to publish their initial stories and bring Snowden to global attention.


Humble spud poised to launch a world food revolution

[Note:  This item comes from friend Shannon McElyea. DLH]

From: Shannon McElyea <>
Subject: Fwd: Humble spud poised to launch a world food revolution | Science | The Observer
Date: October 22, 2014 at 19:18:04 EDT

cool. ;->  and non-GMO

Humble spud poised to launch a world food revolution
By Tracy McVeigh
Oct 18 2014

In a small army field-hut Dr Arjen de Vos shows off his irrigation machine with pride. Pipes lead out to several acres of muddy field, where only a few stragglers from the autumn harvest of potatoes, salads, carrots and onions are left. The tubes are lined with copper to stop corrosion because – in a move that defies everything we think we know about farming – de Vos is watering his plants with diluted sea water.

Last week the project beat 560 competitors from 90 countries to win the prestigious USAid grand challenge award for its salt-tolerant potato. “It’s a game changer,” said de Vos. “We don’t see salination as a problem, we see it as an opportunity.”

Here, on one of the Netherlands’ northernmost islands, windswept Texel (pronounced Tessel) surrounded by encroaching ocean and salt marshes that seep sea water under its dykes and into ditches and canals, an enterprising farmer has taken the radical step of embracing salt water instead of fighting to keep it out. And now he thinks he might just help feed the world.

Inspired by sea cabbage, 59-year-old Marc van Rijsselberghe set up Salt Farm Texel and teamed up with the Free University in Amsterdam, which sent him de Vos to look at the possibility of growing food using non-fresh water. Their non-GM, non-laboratory-based experiments had help from an elderly Dutch farmer who has a geekish knowledge of thousands of different potato varieties.

“The world’s water is 89% salinated, 50% of agricultural land is threatened by salt water, and there are millions of people living in salt-contaminated areas. So it’s not hard to see we have a slight problem,” said van Rijsselberghe. “Up until now everyone has been concentrating on how to turn the salt water into fresh water; we are looking at what nature has already provided us with.”

The scarcity of fresh water has been labelled as the planet’s most drastic problem by the World Bank, NGOs, governments and environmentalists. A fifth of the world’s population already lives in areas of drought, and climate change is only going to exacerbate the problem. Poor farming practices, along with road and pavement building, is raising water tables and increasing the salination of rivers and lakes – in the Western Australian wheat-belt alone, salinity has caused a 50% fall in the numbers of wetland bird species, and threatened 450 plant species with extinction.

Attempts to desalinate sea water are going on around the globe – the UK has a £270m plant on the river Thames and Saudi Arabia produces 70% of its drinking water through desalination. But removing the dissolved minerals is expensive, requires much energy and the leftover concentrated brine has to be disposed of. The process is far too expensive to be used for irrigation in poorer countries. But thanks to a partnership with Dutch development consultants MetaMeta, several tonnes of the Texel seed potatoes are now on their way to Pakistan where thousands of hectares of what until now had been unproductive land because of sea water encroachment have been set aside for them.

If the experiment works and the potatoes adapt to the Asian climate, it could transform the lives of not only small farmers in Pakistan and Bangladesh,, where floods and sea water intrusion wipe out crops with increasing regularity, but also worldwide the 250 million people who live on salt-afflicted soil.

Van Rijsselberghe is happy to be seen as an entrepreneur whose interest was to grow a “value added” food crop that would tolerate Holland’s problems with water. He says he used a trial and error approach in development. “We’re not a scientific institution, we’re a bunch of lunatics with an idea that we can change things and we are interested in getting partnerships together with normal farmers, not people who want to write doctorates.” As a pioneer of organic farming in the 1990s, he faced heavy opposition, while a project to grow sea aster – a salt marsh-grown salad popular in high-end restaurants – ended in disaster when 3,000 migrating ducks made an unexpected stop and ate the entire crop in three hours. ”  <snip>

“Constitutionally abhorrent”

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

“Constitutionally abhorrent”
By Tom Sullivan
Oct 22 2014

“Super seals” are not the navy’s newest secret weapon, but they are double super-secret:

For your “I can’t believe this stuff happens in America” files:

Calling their conduct “constitutionally abhorrent,” a federal judge recently chided government prosecutors for working in secret to keep millions of dollars in cash and assets seized from a Las Vegas gambler and his family in a decadelong bookmaking investigation.

In his 31-page opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach cast light on the little-known court process that allowed the government to file civil forfeiture actions against Glen Cobb, his 82-year-old parents and his stepdaughter under “super seal” with no notice to anyone — not even the family it targeted.

The documents remain sealed in the court’s vault and not logged into any public database — secret from both the public and affected parties:

“This is unacceptable,” Ferenbach wrote in court papers only recently made public. “Relying on various sealed and super-sealed filings, the government asks the court to rule against private citizens, allow the deprivation of their property and deny them a process to redress possible violations of their constitutional rights through a secret government action that provides no notice or opportunity to be heard.

“Saying that this would offend the Constitution is an understatement. It is constitutionally abhorrent.”

Civil-asset forfeiture laws sanction “official thievery,” as Digby put it, “yet another symptom of a justice system that is corrupt and unaccountable.” I first ran across the practice on 60 Minutes in the early 1990s, and can’t believe it still continues. (Maybe it’s the secrecy?) Victims face a “Kafkaesque world” of litigation, attorneys fees, bankruptcy, and blacklisting. The icing on the cake? Hiding the seizures from the public via a “super seal.”

Welcome to the land of the free, y’all. Star chambers and stripes forever.

32 Cities Back Municipal Broadband Initiative

32 Cities Back Municipal Broadband Initiative
Next Century Cities Says ‘Gigabit-Level’ Broadband Attracts New Business, Creates Jobs
By Jeff Baumgartner, Multichannel News

Next Century Cities, an initiative billing itself as a bipartisan effort “dedicated to ensuring the availability of next-generation broadband Internet for all communities,” launched Monday with 32 cities on board.

The coalition is banding together after two cities – Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C.,issued requests to the FCC to preempt state laws restricting their ability to provide broadband service. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled that he wants to use the FCC’s power to prempt what he believes are efforts by incumbent ISPs to block municipal broadband via advocating for those restrictive state laws. In response, a group of dozen Republican senators expressed concerns about Wheeler’s plan, holding that it’s a state’s rights issue.


We remixed John Oliver’s all-dog Supreme Court footage with actual audio from the Aereo case

We remixed John Oliver’s all-dog Supreme Court footage with actual audio from the Aereo case
“Those dry constitutional arguments are now must-see television”
By Ross Miller and Tom Connors
Oct 22 2014

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver challenged news outlets to footage it made of an all-dog Supreme Court to make to the oral arguments “more compelling to watch.”

Challenge accepted. The following is actual audio recordings of the oral arguments from case 13-461, American Broadcasting Co. v. Aereo, Inc. — you can find the original audio file and full transcript here on the official Supreme Court website (caution: audio autoplays). Earlier this year, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Aereo — which streams over-the-air, public channels over the internet — violated copyright law. In oral arguments, Aereo’s lawyers argued with the court over whether the company is more like a parking garage or a valet. Seriously, watch for yourself.

Even now, it’s important to know how the Supreme Court handles technologically-focused cases (spoiler: it’s not great).

Even better, you can learn how while watching dogs be adorable. Well, nine dog justices, two dog lawyers, a duck assistant, and a pecking chicken as stenographer.

FCC suspends review of Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV mergers

FCC suspends review of Comcast/TWC and AT&T/DirecTV mergers
Content companies refused to grant access to confidential programming contracts.
By Jon Brodkin
Oct 22 2014

The Federal Communications Commission today paused the “180-day informal time clock” in its review of the proposed Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV mergers.

The extension comes in response to a request by Dish Network; Comptel; Monumental Sports and Entertainment; RCN; Grande Communications, Inc.; Choice Cable TV of Puerto Rico; and Writers Guild of America, West. These organizations filed their request for an extension after content companies refused to allow access to confidential carriage agreements, despite the FCC issuing a joint protective order requiring limited disclosure. The content companies that objected to providing confidential information included CBS, Scripps, Disney, Time Warner, Twenty First Century Fox, Univision, Viacom, Discovery, and TV One.

Today’s FCC order states:

Among other points, [the companies] argue that certain third-party programmers “do not want any of the interested parties’ outside counsel or experts to view [their programming contracts],” and have “set out to nullify” the Modified Joint Protective Order by filing multiple objections to requests for access. These commenters argue that the programming information is of particular importance in evaluating the applications at issue, and that “these issues cannot be joined, and that analysis cannot be conducted, without reasonable access by both the FCC and outside counsel and experts not involved in competitive decision-making.”

We agree with these commenters that their current inability to review Highly Confidential Information that has been submitted in these dockets significantly hampers their ability to meaningfully comment and participate in these proceedings, in both Docket 14-57 [Comcast/Time Warner Cable] and Docket 14-90 [AT&T/DirecTV]. Accordingly, we are suspending the pleading cycles and stopping our 180-day informal time clock in both dockets. After we rule on the objections, we will issue a Public Notice setting forth new pleading cycles that will provide sufficient time for commenters to review the relevant materials and prepare their comments.

Comcast issued a statement in response, saying that it is still confident that it will be able to buy TWC. “It is routine for the FCC to pause the review of significant transactions as it works to create a full record,” Comcast said. “The Commission is working to hear the concerns of various parties. In the meantime, review of information and evidence already in the docket will continue. We are confident that the Commission will quickly resolve these issues while continuing its work so that review will be completed in early 2015.”