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THE ART OF GLOBAL EAVESDROPPING

You might think that the phone calls you make or the emails you send to your friends are private. Think again please….

In fact, someone else is listening in all the time. Organizations, such as the American National

Security Agency (NSA) with the headquarters in Maryland, continually eavesdrop on phone calls and emails. The NSA is sometimes jokingly called “No Such Agency” because its existence was for ages denied.

Using a program called Echelon; this eavesdropping agency monitors all forms of electronic communications. The main target is probably to listen for terrorists and terrorist sleeper cell networks, but no one for sure knows. Here’s how they do it.

Email exchanges

When you send an email, the electronic signal carrying the email goes to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). From there it is sent via an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) to your friend’s ISP, and then on to your friend. To intercept your email without you knowing, the eavesdropper simply taps into the IXP. The NSA’s computers also continually search through every website on the internet in order to locate anything suspicious.

 

Telephone cables

The cables that carried phone calls under the sea used to be made of copper wires.

Eavesdroppers could listen in by sending divers down to wrap electric coils around the wire. This enabled listeners to hear the phone signals which “leaked” out from the copper. Today the cables are fiber optics, which are completely un-tappable... or are they?

 

Mobile signals

When you call someone on your cell phone, microwave signals travel through the air to an antenna, from where they are relayed through other antennae until they reach the cell of the person you are calling. All an eavesdropper has to do is intercept the microwave signal as it travels between antennae.

Tapping telephones

It is illegal to tap telephone calls in many countries, but eavesdroppers tap them anyway by connecting to major telephone exchanges. With the Echelon system, the security services are not listening in on particular people; they are listening to all calls, them homing in on people when they hear something suspicious.

Satellites

Communications satellites allow telephone calls and television broadcasts to be bounced around the world almost instantly. But these communications can be intercepted from ground stations, which are often set up right next to the dishes that are sending the signals. Sometimes, the ground stations have intriguing codenames, such as the American NSA’s “Moonpenny,” which is located at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, England, and intercepts all telecommunications between the UK and Europe.

 

Voice recognition

There are too many telephone calls for spies to listen to every call, so computers are used to scan millions every second. Some work by “voice recognition,” in which the computer analyzes voices on the phone to detect a particular “wanted” voice.

Computers can be programmed to scan emails and look for suspicious words. In the

1990s, the Echelon program searched for the words “Greenpeace” and “Amnesty International.” It caused a scandal.

Tracing

Computers are used to trace the phone calls and emails of anybody considered to be suspicious. The computers also look for any “links” with other people who have been in touch with the suspect.

Source: DO NOT OPEN: An encyclopedia of the world’s best known secrets.

Apple releases tool to combat Flashback malware

Apple has released a fresh Java update that it says removes the Flashback Trojan on infected Macintosh computers.

The malware installs itself if a user visits a malicious website, exposing the computer to control by hackers.

The update's release comes two days after Apple said it was tackling the issue, and a week after an anti-virus firm warned 600,000 Macs were infected.

Another security firm, Kaspersky, has recalled its own Trojan-removal tool after it affected some user settings.

The company said its tool was removing settings on the computers it was being installed on, and promised to offer a replacement shortly.
'Slow reaction'

Apple, on the other hand, states on its website's support section that its new removal tool gets rid of "the most common variants" of the malware.

The tool is integrated into the latest security update to Java on Apple computers running Mac OS X 10.6 and 10.7 ("Snow Leopard" and "Lion").

Users of infected machines running earlier versions of the operating system are told to disable Java in their web browser preferences to deal with the problem.

Earlier, Apple also said it was working with ISPs to shut down networks of servers hosted by the malware authors, which the code relies on "to perform many of its critical functions".

However, Apple has been criticised for the time it took to react to the Trojan infection.

It is suspected that Flashback was designed to steal passwords and other personal data from users through their web browser.

Russian anti-virus firm Dr Web estimated on 6 April that some 600,000 Macs around the world had contracted the malware.

But security company Norton stated that the number of infected computers had since fallen to 270,000.

Several firms released their own Flashback removal tools ahead of Apple's latest security update.

However, Kaspersky Lab issued a statement after discovering problems with its software.

"In some cases it is possible that the use of the tool could result in erroneous removal of certain user settings including auto-start configurations, user configurations in browsers, and file sharing data," the firm's spokesperson Greg Sabey said in an email to the press.

"The company will release an updated version of the utility with the bug corrected and will send a notification as soon as it's available."

Some analysts say Apple could have avoided the attack if it had tackled the problem sooner.

Java's developer Oracle had issued a fix for other systems eight weeks before Apple's first security update.

Rik Ferguson, director of security research and communication at Trend Micro, said: "Security updates issued by Apple are issued too slowly and not on any regular schedule.

"Apple's sluggishness on security updates could perhaps have been defended in the past by the relative paucity of malware on that operating system. However, MacOS is increasingly attractive and increasingly exploited by criminals."

Apple also appears to be trying to improve safety for its online store iTunes, possibly addressing the growing number of complaints about some accounts being hacked.

Users are being prompted to add back-up email addresses and answer security questions to protect their accounts and devices.

Apple has not commented on the move, which initially confused some of its users.

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