News / USA

NSA Revelations Could Hurt Collaboration With 'Betrayed' Hackers

Hackers and security personal attend the Black Hat hacker conference on July 31, 2013, in Las Vegas.
Hackers and security personal attend the Black Hat hacker conference on July 31, 2013, in Las Vegas.
Reuters
The U.S. government's efforts to recruit talented hackers could suffer from the recent revelations about its vast domestic surveillance programs, as many private researchers express disillusionment with the National Security Agency.
 
Though hackers tend to be anti-establishment by nature, the NSA and other intelligence agencies had made major inroads in recent years in hiring some of the best and brightest, and paying for information on software flaws that help them gain access to target computers and phones.
 
Much of that goodwill has been erased after the NSA's classified programs to monitor phone records and Internet activity were exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to prominent hackers and cyber experts.
 
A turn in the community's sentiment was on show at two major security conventions in Las Vegas this week: Black Hat, which attracts more established cyber professionals, and Def Con, which gets a larger gathering of younger, more independent hackers.
 
“We've gone backwards about 10 years in the relations between the good guys and the U.S. government,” said Alex Stamos, a veteran security researcher who was to give a Def Con talk on Saturday on the need to revisit industry ethics.
 
Stamos has willingly briefed FBI and NSA officials on his work in the past, but said that he would now want their questions in writing and he would bring a lawyer to any meeting.
 
With top intelligence officials warning in March that cyber attacks and cyber espionage have supplanted terrorism as the top security threat facing the United States, the administration is trying to boost security in critical infrastructure and the military is vastly increasing its ranks of computer specialists.
 
The NSA, working with the Department of Homeland Security, has been lending more of its expertise to protect defense contractors, banks, utilities and other industries that are being spied upon or attacked by rival nations.
 
These efforts rely on recruiting talented hackers and working with professionals in the private sector.
 
Some security experts remain supportive of the government. NSA Director Keith Alexander's talk at the Black Hat conference was well received on Wednesday, despite a few hecklers.
 
But at the larger and less expensive Def Con, where attendance is expected to top last year's 15,000, conference founder and government advisor Jeff Moss asked federal agents to stay away.
 
Moss last year brought Alexander as a keynote speaker to woo the hacking community. But he said the relationship between hackers and the government has worsened since then.
 
“I haven't seen this level or sort of animosity since the 90s,” Moss said in an interview. “If you aren't going to say anything in these circumstances, then you never are.”
 
Villain or hero?
 
The NSA's surveillance programs target foreigners outside the United States who pose potential threats to U.S. security or who can provide intelligence for foreign policies. But the secret projects also scooped up huge amounts of American data, according to documents leaked by Snowden, triggering sharp criticism from many lawmakers and civil liberties advocates.
 
“A lot of people feel betrayed by it,” said HD Moore, an executive at security firm Rapid 7, though he said he would continue to brief the NSA on software flaws that the agency uses for both offensive and defensive cyber activities. “What bothers me is the hypocritical bit - we demonize China when we've been doing these things and probably worse.”
Army General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency delivers a keynote address at the Black Hat hacker conference on July 31, 2013, in Las Vegas.Army General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency delivers a keynote address at the Black Hat hacker conference on July 31, 2013, in Las Vegas.
x
Army General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency delivers a keynote address at the Black Hat hacker conference on July 31, 2013, in Las Vegas.
Army General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency delivers a keynote address at the Black Hat hacker conference on July 31, 2013, in Las Vegas.

Alexander took a conciliatory tone during his Black Hat speech, defending the NSA but saying he looked forward to a discussion about how it could do things better.
 
Black Hat attracts professionals whose companies pay thousands of dollars for them to attend. Def Con costs $180 and features many of the same speakers.
 
At Black Hat, a casual polling station at a vendor's exhibition booth asking whether Snowden was a villain or a hero produced a dead heat: 138 to 138. European attendees were especially prone to vote for hero, the vendor said.
 
Def Con would have been much rougher on Alexander, judging by interviews there and the reception given speakers who touched on Snowden and other government topics.
 
Christopher Soghoian, an American Civil Liberties Union technologist, drew applause from hundreds of attendees when he said the ACLU had been the first to sue the NSA after one of the spy programs was revealed.
 
Peiter Zatko, a hacker hero who funded many small projects from a just-departed post at the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, told another large audience that he was unhappy with the surveillance programs and that “challenging the government is your patriotic duty.”
 
The disenchanted give multiple reasons, citing previous misleading statements about domestic surveillance, the government's efforts to force companies to decrypt user communications, and the harm to U.S. businesses overseas.
 
“I don't think anyone should believe anything they tell us,” former NSA hacker Charlie Miller said of top intelligence officials. “I wouldn't work there anymore.”
 
Stamos and Moss said the U.S. government is tilting too much toward offense in cyberspace, using secret vulnerabilities that their targets can then discover and wield against others.
 
Closest to home for many hackers are the government's aggressive prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which has been used against Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide in January, and U.S. soldier Bradley Manning, who leaked classified files to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
 
A letter circulating at Def Con and signed by some of the most prominent academics in computer security said the law was chilling research in the public interest by allowing prosecutors and victim companies to argue that violations of electronic “terms of service” constitute unauthorized intrusions.
 
Researchers who have found important flaws in electronic voting machines and medical devices did so without authorization, the letter says.
 
If there is any silver lining, Moss said, it is that before Snowden's leaks, it had been impossible to have an informed discussion about how to balance security and civil liberties without real knowledge of government practices.
 
“The debate is just starting,” he said. “Maybe we can be a template for other democracies.” 

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs