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Queally reports: "Internet users who use online privacy tools or read certain websites may themselves become targets of NSA surveillance, according to a new investigation."

The NSA is targeting anyone who seeks to protect their data. (illustration: unknown)
The NSA is targeting anyone who seeks to protect their data. (illustration: unknown)

Revealed: 'Collect It All' NSA Targets Those Seeking Web Privacy

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams

04 July 14


'Merely visiting privacy-related websites is enough for a user's IP address to be logged into an NSA database,' says new report.

nternet users who use online privacy tools or read certain websites may themselves become targets of NSA surveillance, according to a new investigation by public broadcasting outlets in Germany published on Thursday.

Citing documents that refer to "deep packet inspection" rules used by the NSA for its so-called "XKeyscore" program to determine what targets are selected for surveillance and how, the investigation (versions: German | English) reveals that people who seek out or use online privacy tools—including things like TOR, a network tool that provides digital anonymity and minimizes exposure to possible surveillance—may be targeted simply for making those efforts.

Other platforms targeted by the program include the LINUX open source operating system as well as privacy and encryption services such as HotSpotShield, FreeNet, Centurian,, MegaProxy, and an anonymous email service called MixMinion. According to the reporting, the NSA characterized those who would use such services as "extremists," which sparked spirited outrage on social media as the story broke.

As part of its investigation, the researchers examined a piece of computer code found on a server maintained by Sebastian Hahn, a German student of computer science who manages a node on the TOR network. The discovery showed not only that Hahn was a target of NSA surveillance, but also the previously unknown lengths the agency has gone in targeting users of such tools.

Examination of the XKeyscore rules contained in the code (now published for the first time) goes beyond previous reporting by the Guardian newspaper about the program and, according to the English version of the new reporting, "provides a window into the actual instructions given to NSA computers" conducting the surveillance.

"The top secret source code published here," the report continues, "indicates that the NSA is making a concerted effort to combat any and all anonymous spaces that remain on the internet. Merely visiting privacy-related websites is enough for a user's IP address to be logged into an NSA database."

When asked for his reaction to the findings, Roger Dingledine, an MIT alumnus who spearheads the TOR project, told the investigative team:

"We've been thinking of state surveillance for years because of our work in places where journalists are threatened. Tor's anonymity is based on distributed trust, so observing traffic at one place in the Tor network, even a directory authority, isn't enough to break it. Tor has gone mainstream in the past few years, and its wide diversity of users - from civic-minded individuals and ordinary consumers to activists, law enforcement, and companies - is part of its security. Just learning that somebody visited the Tor or Tails website doesn't tell you whether that person is a journalist source, someone concerned that her Internet Service Provider will learn about her health conditions, or just someone irked that cat videos are blocked in her location. Trying to make a list of Tor's millions of daily users certainly counts as wide scale collection. Their attack on the bridge address distribution service shows their "collect all the things" mentality - it's worth emphasizing that we designed bridges for users in countries like China and Iran, and here we are finding out about attacks by our own country. Does reading the contents of those mails violate the wiretap act? Now I understand how the Google engineers felt when they learned about the attacks on their infrastructure.”

On Thursday, as news of the story spread around the world, Hahn himself answered questions about the new developments surrounding XKeyscore and his role in the investigation.

Asked how it felt to be in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a target of NSA surveillance, Hahn responded: "It is a different level of surveillance, thus I dislike this comparison. Every German citizen is subject of surveillance on a daily basis, without anyone mentioning it. My personal case might be good for headlines; the whole dimension and the missing protection measures, especially for less technical experienced people is the real scandal. I am shocked how easily innocent people can get into the focus of surveillance. Intelligence agency [sic] take that for granted."

As the German public broadcaster Das Erste summarizes, the investigation into the code and the NSA targeting it represents revealed: "Merely searching the web for the privacy-enhancing software tools outlined in the XKeyscore rules causes the NSA to mark and track the IP address of the person doing the search. Not only are German privacy software users tracked, but the source code shows that privacy software users worldwide are tracked by the NSA."

Cory Doctorow, writing for Boing Boing in a piece aptly titled, 'If you read Boing Boing, the NSA considers you a target for deep surveillance,' says the reporting contains several key revelations. He writes:

I have known that this story was coming for some time now, having learned about its broad contours under embargo from a trusted source. Since then, I've discussed it in confidence with some of the technical experts who have worked on the full set of Snowden docs, and they were as shocked as I was.

One expert suggested that the NSA's intention here was to separate the sheep from the goats -- to split the entire population of the Internet into "people who have the technical know-how to be private" and "people who don't" and then capture all the communications from the first group.

In addition, and not for the first time, the source of leak has the potential to be an explosive development all its own. According to Doctorow:

Another expert said that s/he believed that this leak may come from a second source, not Edward Snowden, as s/he had not seen this in the original Snowden docs; and had seen other revelations that also appeared independent of the Snowden materials. If that's true, it's big news, as Snowden was the first person to ever leak docs from the NSA. The existence of a potential second source means that Snowden may have inspired some of his former colleagues to take a long, hard look at the agency's cavalier attitude to the law and decency.

And technology expert and privacy advocate Bruce Shreier agreed, writing: "I do not believe that this came from the Snowden documents [...] I think there's a second leaker out there." your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+10 # sunflower333 2014-07-04 10:28
"If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear" has morphed to "If you do not try to hide then you have nothing to fear". This morphed to "If you are afraid then you have something to hide". I am afraid and nowhere to hide.
+6 # davidh7426 2014-07-04 11:29
Now it's finally morphing into...

+5 # sunflower333 2014-07-04 11:54
This is new technology! A machine algorithm is selecting targets. Humans are not involved. Very scary.
+2 # Dust 2014-07-04 12:05
It's Bruce "Schneier", not 'Schreier'.

As for targeting GNU/Linux users, the NSA must be recruiting - most (if not all) of the network snooping tools they have are free/open-sourc e code generated by the GNU/Linux - BSD community; they simply have massively big iron with which to implement them.

The current bias against science, education, and any sort of intelligence in the US is utterly obscene.
+2 # Kootenay Coyote 2014-07-04 15:41
But there is a difference between a Know-nothing bias against knowledge & information, & a bias against their abuse.
+5 # Dust 2014-07-04 16:22
Oh, absolutely. My point was that apparently anybody who knows how to code and use a computer is somehow suspect.
+3 # jamander4 2014-07-04 14:20
A message to sunflower333 and others.Have courage. Your realizing that hiding does not protect you is important because hiding will not prevent this situation from occuring. Contact your elected officials and let them know how you feel about this situation. Is it too late for elected officials to change anything? I don't know. But we have to try to set this situation right.
+10 # sunflower333 2014-07-04 14:57
What is happening is already illegal. We do not need new legislation. We need justice.
0 # Dust 2014-07-04 18:40
We need justice, and we also need decent operating systems. Toss your Windows and Mac machines out the.. er.. window...

Actually, just wipe the drives and install Linux or BSD, or run either from a live CD... no need for waste!
+2 # RMDC 2014-07-04 19:01
There is no chance of getting justice from the same government that the NSA and CIA are part of. the US regime exists to enhance the take of the ruling elites. The great enemy of the ruling elites is the working class, people like most of us. We are the ones they must surveil and control. They need to be sure we continue to work, shop, and be entertained to death. We must never question authority. The NSA is keeping track of that.
+1 # sunflower333 2014-07-04 20:14
Our computers have NSA TAO implants in BIOS. Wiping hard drives and using thumb drive boots will not evade NSA surveillance via BIOS. Use GnuPG encryption on air gap machines.
+1 # Dust 2014-07-04 20:27
I had heard of mucking about with deliberately weakened encryption and such, intercepting hardware between vendor and buyer, and a number of other things, including some older BIOS attacks. Do you have a citation for recent BIOS compromise attacks?

If you air-gap your machine, that simply removes the hard-jack into the Net; you will still have wifi access. If you shut down wifi access on an air-gapped machine, there's no need for any of this unless it is specific data about which are you concerned, like Schneier reviewing some of Snowden's documents.
+2 # sunflower333 2014-07-04 20:48
An air gap computer is never ever connected to the net (disable wifi) and is only used for encrypting/decr ypting files downloaded to/from another net connected computer. Metadata can not be protected. TOR is not secure. Your server and keyboard are not secure.

A trusted courier can hand deliver encrypted files.
0 # John S. Browne 2014-07-04 21:55

I would say that that's great, but the USG is able to hack and monitor Linux OSs, too. In fact, as already made clear here, the USG *uses* Linux quite a bit themselves; so, you can be sure, particularly with all of the traitor hackers who the USG has employed, that they know how to get just as much access to Linux OSs as they do Windows OSs.

Somebody, if they haven't already, needs to design a completely hack-proof and surveil- lance-proof PC; but the cost of one of them would probably be prohibitive for most people. And then, of course, the government would likely take note of who buys them and monitor those people in other ways even more, as well put a lot of concentration, through their hacker force, to "break" those "proofed" computers as well, or find ways to monitor what flows from and to them.

We need surveillance- and hack- proof ISP and internet access as well, although that would probably be cost-prohibitiv e for most PC users also. Thus, what's the answer(s)? I don't know that there really, completely are any, and/or that there's any way to truly, fully and completely enjoy True Liberty, Freedom, Privacy, Security and Dignity today. But, that's why the USG released the WWW to the general public in the first place after all; so they could use it to monitor everyone and everything (or pretty darn close).

I think we're all screwed. I don't mean that we should give up, but the government surveillance, and device vulnerability, have us by the balls.

0 # John S. Browne 2014-07-04 21:57


Now I will probably be even more thoroughly surveilled by the USG just for making that comment! Go figure! It certainly isn't surprising anymore! "Welcome" to Or- well's "1984", in reality and being expanded extremely every day! Anyone still be- lieve, "rhetorically-q uestioning, that True Liberty, Freedom, Privacy, Security and Dignity aren't fracked? We're definitely now living in a "Brave New World" that isn't good at all, and that is nothing but dangerous and a dire, grave threat to everyone today, that's for sure! So, what are we to do rather than bow down to enslavement? This globalist one-world government subjugation and control sucks the big one, eh?!

+1 # RLF 2014-07-07 06:12
They are successfully making the internet useful for big business and nothing else. Guess who is really behind this and wants access (and will get access) to all of this tech. Same people that own our government and are concerned about getting hung from the lamp posts.

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