CIA and the Intelligence Components of Security

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pierluigi Paganini

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(Translated from the original Italian)

Unfortunately, we rarely stop to reflect on the reality that surrounds us and the potential of the devices we use every day in the office, at home, and when we're out. 

The technology behind each of them has become the main architect of their operation, no matter whether we are talking about our phones or about refrigerators in our kitchen.

More and more devices are connected to the Internet, exchange information, talk to each other, and sometimes getting rid of the many concerns around security is difficult so we may get on with our daily lives.

These devices provide a huge amount of valuable information useful for many purposes, from commercial to military.

The major intelligence agencies in the world are aware of the problem from freely available data, which is deemed by many as the new frontier of espionage, as one can conceivably monitor the life of any citizen via his TV or his oven.

If you think this is mistaken paranoia, that this information is not really public but private, you underestimate the the new essence of power.

The issue is extremely delicate and deserves careful study, as these devices that can provide all kinds of information on our daily experiences, can be controlled remotely to spy on us, or even worse may be deliberately tampered with remotely to cause damage.

(Click image to enlarge)

Obviously, these aspects should be examined and should be considered in a cyber strategy that takes into account the intelligence components of the technology that surrounds us.

CIA Director David Petraeus, during a summit for In-Q-Tel -the CIA’s venture capital firm - has alerted the community about the emergence of an “Internet of Things”:

“‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies...” 

“particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft...”

“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low cost, and high-power computing,” “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing...”

Clearly the message has an exponent of intelligence. Agencies like the CIA are very interested to talk intelligence,about  the ability to intercept and steal secrets without any effort, or simply accessing information through an appliance or our gaming consoles. Although many agencies have a lot of legal restrictions against spying on American citizens, in this area there is still to much to be concerned about.

Let's consider that the ambient geolocation data collected by devices is a gray area, especially after the 2008 carve-outs to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Manufacturers regularly collect and store geolocation data coming from their devices, making it easy for governments track customers.

Agencies like the CIA are aware that they have powerful new tools for monitoring at their disposal, so new issues are emerging on the forefront of internal security of a nation. As I pointed out, there are criminal organizations, groups of hackers, and not the last hostile governments who may also have access to this information.

Imagine if in the future that a virus, instead of attacking your pc, may infect of your TV or remotely manage your home automation system.

We must approach with care the diffusion of technology, and we must correctly size up the potential threats. As there has been increased media attention on vulnerabilities within critical structures, the same approach must be followed to manage issues of intelligence gathering from many commonly used devices.

I conclude with a reflection, considering that the technology component is steadily increasing in every sector despite the vulnerabilities, it is expected to also develop new opportunities for the development of home security systems linked to the management of the issues described. Maybe in the near future, to counter of the vulnerability in utilities and home technologies, we may soon find a a firewall installed in our houses.

Who will manage this firewall? Why Big Brother of course...

Cross-posted from Security Affairs

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