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Google Hangouts: a step towards closed protocols

9 July 2013

Corporate SecretsGoogle decided to replace the Google Talk IM platform with Google Hangouts that has very limited XMPP (Jabber) support and no option for disabling the logging of user’s chats.
A number of experts criticized this decision, since, in their opinion, it denotes the transition from free to closed proprietary protocols.

Messengers are already being updated – and that includes both desktop applications, their web counterparts (found in Gmail and Google+, for example) and mobile apps.

The main difference between the protocols is the lack of the server-to-server federation standard support that allowed users to use alternative message exchange servers or even create their own ones to be 100% sure of the confidentiality of their communications. From now on, all messages will be sent via Google’s servers and be logged there as well.

The consequences this may lead to are obvious.

IT security experts are calling to Google to revert to open standards, make the Google Hangouts specifications public and publish the source code for creating a personal server.

Interception of Gmail messages: FBI’s key priority

9 July 2013

gmail-300x200Speaking at an event organized by the American Bar Association, Andrew Weissman, an FBI counsel, called the development of a legal base for monitoring major online services the top priority of the bureau in 2013.

The current legal foundation for online surveillance is a part of a law that grants secret services access to email and chat services and is called the “Wiretap Act”. It enables the FBI to monitor users’ activities on the provider level. However, most Internet services encrypt data connections between users and the server, thus rendering FBI surveillance partially useless.

Weissman mentioned Gmail, Google Voice, Dropbox and built-in chats in many games as examples of such services.

Therefore, FBI can legally compel Gmail, for instance, to assist in intercepting some information, but it does not oblige Gmail employees to mandatory actions, so the efficiency of FBI investigations in limited. This happens because the Act only applies to providers, who must install FBI equipment in their data centers. Online services are currently out of reach for the bureau.

According to Weissman, FBI will be working hard on new legislation, which, once adopted, will considerably broaden their authority.

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Russian intelligence agencies acquire Skype intercept

9 July 2013

After the Microsoft company acquired the Skype company in 2011, the client communication program received an interesting modification. Microsoft specialists gave themselves the ability to transfer any user to a special mode, in which the transmission data encryption keys are generated on the company server instead of on the client device.

This makes it possible for intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on users’ conversations, to read their Skype chat transcripts, and even to determine their locations.

Microsoft does not hide the fact that these capabiities are available to the world’s intelligence agencies, including Russia’s. More importantly, Russian intelligence agencies do not always obtain their access with the permission of the courts, but sometimes “by routine request”.

It recently became known that in the Chinese version of Skype there actually is a separate mechanism for tracking the activities of a subscriber. Built into their localized distribution package is a call logger that records everything entered from the keyboard. This module searches text for “objectionable” words and forwards what is detected to local intelligence agencies.

Official representatives of the MVD and FSB traditionally refrain from commenting.

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Microsoft and Verizon patent user surveillance technologies

9 July 2013

A new patent by Microsoft (patent number 0120278904) describes a surveillance system that uses special camera-like devices to detect the presence of people in a room and calculate their number. The patent describes a possible use case where such a system is used to monitor the number of people watching a movie. When a certain threshold is exceeded, the system requests that an extended content license be purchased. The content can be played only a certain number of times, within a certain time period and for a certain number of viewers of specific ages.

According to the patent, such a system can be used in various types of devices: from tablets, consoles and PC’s to mobile phones.

Verizon has a similar patent, but it provides more details about user monitoring.

The system is based on devices equipped with a microphone, a camera, an infrared camera and a laser sensor. The concept is strikingly similar to existing devices – for instance, Kinect for Xbox.

The described system can not only determine the number of people in a room, but also analyze their activities and identify their behavior (and show relevant ads, for example). The system will recognize the age of specific individuals and detect the presence and type of pets in front of it.

The system can also connect to users’ mobile phones for greater control accuracy.

Google is currently submitting a similar patent for its Google TV service, but little is known about it yet.

The capabilities of such systems are described in patent applications as entirely voluntary user actions. However, this will hardly prevent content providers (game and movie companies) from requiring a connection to such a system.

As in many other similar situations, this news worried lots of users. Blogs and forums were filled with references to Orwell’s “1984” novel and concerns about possible illegal use of such systems for user monitoring.
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Viruses against the road police of the Moscow region

9 July 2013

Kaspersky Lab experts have discovered a virus that was intentionally planted into the Strelka-ST video surveillance systems that belong to the road police of the Moscow region. Specialists have discovered over a hundred files infected with various modifications of the virus.

The infection resulted in an almost complete shutdown of the regional video surveillance system on key highways and a financial loss estimated at 50 million rubles, since the systems remained offline for two weeks.
The analysis of the malware revealed that it was using a well-known technique – the virus periodically connected to a remote server and executed its commands.

Therefore, it is quite possible that data from these systems may have been sent over to the hackers’ server and we may be witnessing the use of the first spyware for road cameras in Russia.

In countries where digital technologies are more commonplace, many similar incidents have been recorded – from hacking digital locks in hotels to breaking into the software of coffee machines and even nuclear reactors. However, this particular case involving a virus attack on a federal video surveillance system is quite unique.

Authorities from the road police administration and the Ministry of Transportation are conducting an internal investigation and believe that the attack was the result of harsh competition between potential providers or system maintenance and support services.

Please bear in mind that spyware is not limited to viruses only. This category of software also includes legal and useful products of a similar kind.

For instance, if you want to know what your children are doing on their computers while you are away, you can use such software to collect detailed information about their activities and fend off many online threats.

All you need to do is to download Personal Monitor and install it on your computer. The program has a 3-day free unrestricted trial mode.

Free spyware: options

9 July 2013

Spyware can be used in various ways and for various purposes that are sometimes entirely opposite to each other.

For example, you can download a free trial version of the Personal Monitor, install it on your computer, and always know exactly what your kids have been doing while you were away. That way, you can ensure their safety. You can only install this software on your own computer.

However, judging by the news, spyware is often used for much more ignoble purposes.

Employees of the antivirus company Kaspersky Lab have confirmed a recent attack by the Lurk spyware on a number of popular information websites in the Russian segment of the Internet. The virus that was distributed that way, re-directed website users to a phishing site for the purpose of identity theft.

Websites of Vesti,, Vzglyad, and InterFax were all affected. The agencies’ employees have already cleared the websites from malicious code; however repeated infections of the resources have already been documented.

In order to cover up the presence of spyware on the websites, the intruders only added it at lunchtime (and for no longer than an hour and a half), and then deleted it. During that time the employees of the publications and antivirus companies could not detect the infection.

The Lurk virus is already known to the experts – it attacked the AdFox advertising system in March 2012 and a number of federal websites at the end of last year.

The purpose of these attacks is simple – profit. The infected computers become a part of the botnet and can be used in any way that its owner sees fit – from attacking other resources to stealing keys to client-banks and removing funds.

Computer and user monitoring software

9 July 2013

American journalists have discovered a video on YouTube that has never been intended for public viewing. It was uploaded back in 2010 for demonstration at the Federal Security Conference (that took place in April 2012), but it was never shown – the developers decided that the software was really not ready.

The author of the video and the software shown in it is the American defense company Raytheon, and the software is RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology). The video can easily be found on YouTube by typing in the full name.

It is a computer and user monitoring software that uses a large number of data sources, including social networks (Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, etc.). A data unit (personal file) is assigned to each user within the software, where information is gathered from all possible sources.

The monitoring software collects information on contacts, places visited, and typical routes. User’s photos are analyzed – the appearance is identified, EXIF tags are analyzed with the GPS data and times the pictures were taken. By analyzing the gathered information, the software predicts the future actions of the person.

Raytheon confirmed the authenticity of the video and stated that the software has not yet been sold to the client – the federal agency.

Development of monitoring software is a global trend that seems to have been around for a while, but is just beginning to gather steam.

Despite its formidable functionality, this software can be used in hundreds of peaceful and lawful ways.


downloadFor example, if your children use your computer in your absence, information gathering about their activities can make life much simpler both for the children and for their parents – after all, you can avert many dangers of modern day Internet that way.

And you don’t have to sign a contract with a defense company to do it; you can simply download the Personal Monitor software and install it on your computer. For the first 3 days the software is free in the fully functional mode.

Google is developing alternative authorization schemes

12 April 2013

Google employees say they have begun developing new user authentication technologies that do not use passwords.

The company’s security division released a report on the possible ways of lowering the risk that websites’ authorization mechanisms will be broken into. According to the report, user passwords are no longer a sufficient method for protecting information.

Google’s ideas for protecting its e-mail service, Gmail (and connections to it), include miniature cryptographic USB cards that allow users to be authorized after registration without entering a password. It has been suggested that in time the USB interface will move way to wireless technology that would allow any accessory — watches, rings, etc. — to be used to grant access.

Antiviruses are losing to virus attacks

12 April 2013

av-testA research by German scientists from the AV-Test information security institute revealed a drastic decrease of the efficiency of anti-virus tools. The research included the testing of 25 anti-virus tools for home use and 8 corporate products.

Anti-virus programs managed to block 92% of low-level attacks and clean 91% of infected systems, of which only 60% were able to operate normally.

Three out of 25 tested programs could not score high enough to get a security certificate: Microsoft Security Essentials, PC Tools and AhnLabs. Another corporate solution from Microsoft, Forefront, also didn’t score high enough in the tests.

A similar alternative research was conducted by a company called Imperva in late 2012 with similarly discouraging results: all anti-virus tools of the VirusTotal service successfully detected less than 5% of malware.

Legal Activists Raise Concerns About Skype

12 April 2013

A large group of activists comprised of organizations, journalists, lawyers and regular Internet users issued an open letter to Skype’s current owner, Microsoft. This letter focused on the confidentiality of Skype communications. They believe that the service’s confidentiality policy is somewhat fuzzy and the description of possible interactions with third parties and law enforcement agencies is insufficient.

Microsoft’s agreement with China’s TOM Оnline on the creation of a custom version of Skype for Chinese users was especially criticized. This version had a special filter that blocked specific messages. And since this version was identical to the regular one, it meant that any Skype user could eventually be monitored.

Activists reckon that the main reason for such changes in Skype policies is the recent acquisition of the company by Microsoft. That is why it is now held responsible for letting the public know about the ways the service works with confidential data and interacts with law enforcement agencies.

Microsoft employees confirmed the receipt of the letter and promised to issue an official response to these questions.