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Telstra found to be storing data for USA intelligence agencies

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 13-Jul-2013 13:44

Remember 1997? That’s when Carnivore was in use by the FBI. Soon after we heard rumours of an AT&T Room 641A, where the NSA would have a colocated interception facility that would tap into all communications being handled by that telco. Then all the rage about ECHELON, a SIGINT collection network operated by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the United States of America).

During those years people were quick to call “paranoid” those who discussed those surveillance systems and frameworks.

It is now 2013 and we start reading more about a secret program called PRISM, that would allow intelligence services access to data stored by technology companies that store and forward communications and data files. Companies allegedly involved all sent out releases saying pretty much “we care deeply about our users privacy and comply with the law.” Those include Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!.

Despite all the negatives, just yesterday came out more leaked information alleging Microsoft has provided the NSA with encryption keys that would allow them to access encrypted communications in their online properties such as Outlook.com, Hotmail.com and Skype. This is similar to 1999 claims that Microsoft has inserted a public key into the Windows NT operating system allowing intelligence services a backdoor into the platform.

Now come word that Australian Telstra has been working with American authorities since 2001 in a manner not different from AT&T and it famous Room 641A. In essence the telco agreed to store electronic communications data originating or terminating in the USA and going through their Reach network, making this available to US enforcement agencies on demand. The data is available through systems involves not only “metadata” but content of emails, instant messages and voice calls.

Fairfax Media reported that four Australian defence facilities are being used by the US in this intelligence collection programme. Local (Australian) centres are used in a National Security Agency surveillance program codenamed X-Keyscore.

This collaboration seems to be the result of Telstra decision to expand into Asia through Reach. When it came to the point where they needed to negotiate landing rights into USA, the local security agencies made it a requirement the company signed the agreement to collaborate in this data collection in order for a license to be issued.

While no live surveillance is being conducted, the data is available at short notice to US intelligence agencies.

Just recently University of Otago information science Associate Professor Hank Wolfe commented that “Under what was unofficially known as the Five Eyes Alliance, New Zealand and other governments; including the United States, Australia, Canada, and Britain, dealt with internal spying by saying they didn’t do it, but they have all the partners doing it for them and then they share all the information.” Yes, Five Eyes is the evolution of good old ECHELON from the late 90s.

So the questions after this revelation from the other side of the Tasman is really “how much of New Zealand communications are being stored by Telstra and handed over to foreign intelligence agencies?”. Or even “are there any New Zealand ISPs or cable providers involved in a similar deal?”

This all just happens in the middle of discussions involving the New Zealand’s government proposal Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill. I suggest you read Thomas Beagle’s GCSB Bill Oral Submission and also his other submission to the GCSB Bill:

The GCSB Act (2003) allowed the GCSB to provide advice and assistance to any public authorities or other entities. However, section 14 made it very clear that this assistance was not to include any action for the purpose of intercepting the communications of a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident.

The GCSB Bill now explicitly allows the GCSB to perform interceptions of New Zealanders communications on behalf of the Police, SIS or Defence Force.

It also allows the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders for the purpose of maintaining cybersecurity. (The GCSB claims in the Regulatory Impact Statement that it will need to be able to monitor the communications of New Zealanders to detect whether they are being attacked.)

Those changes actually allow the GCSB to perform interceptions of New Zealander's’ communications on behalf of other agencies, something that caused a bit of a problem when they watched over Mr Dotcom, which was later ruled illegal because Mr Dotcom was a New Zealand resident at the time.

I have reached to Southern Cross Cables asking for comments but I don’t expect to hear anything back until Monday at least.



Nethui 2013 (live updates)

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 8-Jul-2013 09:59

Attending the Nethui 2013, courtesy of InternetNZ. After the opening ceremony I joined the Internet Research Day stream.

The first session in this stream is lead by James Mahuta-Coyle, entitled “NZ Privacy Regulations and the Cloud: Current Controls and Options for Reform”. James took us through a look at the current issues regarding data ownership and accountability. But the session really is about what laws and what jurisdiction apply to data.

For example New Zealand privacy laws say that cloud providers are said to be holding data on behalf of the agency which actually uses the data. But these laws could be applied to entities outside New Zealand based on interpretation of where the data is being collected, not where the data is stored.

The session made parallels between cloud usage and the Privacy Principles established by the New Zealand Privact Act.

The next session was lead by Joy Liddicoat and was about New Zealand Internet Freedom Index.

During the Tuesday keynote the audience asked Jordan Carter, InternetNZ Chief Executive, what internetNZ is doing about government surveillance. The answer is basically about submissions regarding the bill and involving the Internet community at large in this debate.

The Hon Amy Adams, Minister of Communications and Information Technology is the Tuesday’s keynote. She said the Internet is essential part of our lives and key for New Zealand economics.

We now have 80% of New Zealand homes connected to the Internet. Average Internet usage per connection has gone up from 10GB a month in 2010 to 19GB a month in 2013.

Two scheduled reviews this year. The TSO and a wider review of policy framework to regulate telecommunications services in New Zealand. This is how Hon Amy Adams commented on the TSO review during the speech:

This morning at NetHui I am announcing the release of a discussion document on possible changes to the local residential Telecommunications Services Obligations.

Under the TSO, Telecom is required to continue to provide voice and dial-up data services to all residential premises that had an active Telecom line in December 2001.

Telecom must also keep the line rental for those services, in both urban and rural New Zealand, at or below the 1989 price in real terms, which equates to the $51 per month many of us pay today.

And of course Telecom must offer people a calling option under which local calls are unmetered – the so-called free local calling option which almost all of us use.

The TSO requirements as they stand create some issues.

The current TSO does not allow Telecom to use the most cost-effective and modern technology to provide TSO services, effectively locking in copper and potentially delaying the availability of cheaper and more innovative services.

The TSO arrangements – particularly free local calling combined with a relatively high monthly rental charge – may have slowed the progress and uptake of newer services. We may be seeing higher prices, less innovation and fewer new products compared with other countries that do not have these settings.

Let me give you some further context about why a review is needed.

In 2001, the year the TSO was agreed to, only 37 per cent of New Zealand households had access to the internet.

And when I talk about having access to the internet, few of those connections would be today recognised as broadband quality.

As I highlighted earlier, the latest figures now show that 80 per cent of New Zealand households now have access to the internet. The vast majority of these connections are broadband.

In much of the country, we now have better mobile coverage and better mobile services, people can watch the news while on the bus, share photos on social media sites, or send unlimited text messages as part of their telecommunications bundle.

Many people are now moving away from having home landlines at all, and others are accessing VOIP equivalents in preference to the traditional copper service.

The driver of this change is an increasingly competitive market and well-targeted supply-side initiatives, which together, are delivering affordable, reliable telecommunications services to a large number of New Zealanders.

The implication of this change for the TSO is the issue that the Government’s discussion document explores.

It asks whether, given market developments, we continue to need the protections of the TSO, or whether having them may be unjustifiably stifling innovation, and if it is needed, whether it needs updating.

There are several key aspects that need to be considered.

First, competition has developed throughout the telecommunications market. In 2001, Telecom had the lion’s share of all areas of the market, particularly fixed voice and Internet access.

Today, Telecom is a retail service provider amongst many others, with less than 50 per cent market share of retail broadband connections and it is facing increasing competition for voice services.

Second, the Government has introduced well targeted supply-side initiatives like the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative and the Rural Broadband Initiative, to provide access to faster broadband for the majority of New Zealanders.

And thirdly, as I have previously highlighted, technology and the way we use telecommunications is changing rapidly, and this change is expected to accelerate.

The current TSO was established based on PSTN fixed-line calling being our primary mode of communication.  But now we have, as I have mentioned, more than one mobile phone for every New Zealander and much higher functioning internet services.

Similarly, the minimum speed requirements for internet access in the TSO are measured in kilobits per second – 14.4 kilobits for 95 per cent of lines and 9.6 kilobits for 99 per cent of lines. Compare that to today where fibre offers peak speeds of at least 100 Mbps.

The TSO can’t be frozen in time.  The underlying principles for the review are to ensure that any future TSO provisions are technology-neutral, focusing on the services people want to have available, rather than dictating the way those services must be provided, and to ensure that the framework promotes the development of competitive pricing and services rather than acting as a barrier to innovation.

Against this background, one of the first things the discussion document does is to consider what might happen if all the TSO protections were removed and not replaced. This allows us to see what potential problems would still remain, and to tailor any future TSO protections to these residual problems.

The discussion document concludes that, if there were no TSO protections at all, it is likely that consumers in isolated smaller communities and rural areas could face reduced service availability and quality, or higher prices, or both; and that free-local calling could come with conditions, such as a cap on use.

Because of these residual problems, the discussion paper outlines four broad options for future TSO protections.

These options include the status quo, and three options for change – minimal, medium and significant.

Other possible changes canvassed in the discussion paper include whether Telecom should continue to be required to provide a copy of the White Pages telephone directory to every household covered by the TSO. 

A recent opt-in pilot in Auckland suggested that many people are comfortable with finding this information online, and as a result, about 95% fewer phone books will be distributed to Auckland households this year.

I want to make it clear, though, that no changes are proposed to Telecom’s obligation to provide residential customers with free 111 calling, a free directory listing or deaf relay obligations under the TSO.

There are also no plans to remove the requirement that an option to have unmetered local calling is offered to consumers.

Consultation on the discussion document will close on Tuesday 20 August, and I am looking forward to hearing your views on the future options. 

As I mentioned earlier, the second review we are commencing is a wider assessment of the policy framework for regulating telecommunications services in New Zealand under section 157AA of the Act.

Throughout the establishment of the Government’s UFB and RBI initiatives, user groups were clear in their calls for the need for fibre connectivity as a priority.

The Government is committed to world-class fibre infrastructure, and the long-term gains it will bring. Increased certainty around the transition path from copper to fibre will promote development of retail fibre products, boosting the ability of New Zealand homes, businesses, schools and hospitals to maximise the transformative potential of these technologies.

The first phase of this review will look at whether the existing pricing framework we have in place is properly calibrated for the once in several generations transition period, as we shift from the legacy copper to the new fibre network, with the significant gains in speed, quality and reliability this will deliver for users. 

Investing in a new fixed access network is challenging. To make sure the new services are ready when people are going to need and value them, you have to start building ahead of demand, which is expensive and risky.

If you do not have the right regulatory settings in place to enable infrastructure providers to invest in new replacement technology, there is a real risk that consumers will not have access to it, or not have access to it for a long time.

Over the past few months I have had a range of productive discussions with a number of stakeholder groups around these issues which have been very useful.

It is my intention to issue a discussion document on the first phase of the telecommunications regulatory review in the next month or so, and I look forward to your feedback on the issues it will raise.

That document will focus primarily on how the regulatory framework can best provide certainty of costs, at the appropriate levels, over the transition period from now until the fibre build is complete.  Subsequent phases of the review to be undertaken in the years ahead will consider the longer term aspects of telecommunications regulation.

In the meantime of course the rollout of the UFB and RBI programmes continues at pace and we are looking forward to the auction of the 700Mhz spectrum later in the year.

Hon Amy Adams commenting on international connectivity, she commented how the Southern Cross cable prices have been coming down. The government will however support other undersea cable initiatives, but don’t see any bottlenecks in the current arrangements.

Wednesday morning we see the Parliamentary debates, where some of our MPs expose their views on technology, Internet and the role government in economic growth driven by these  resources.

Tracey Martin, NP NZ First MP started the discussion talking four minutes about how technology impacts the MPs’ work in our Parliament. She uses an iPad – and she didn’t have one before coming to the Parliament. She’s also got an iPhone “which is fab” and an old Nokia. Her thoughts were about all the impact of these pieces of technology on the public relationship with politicians. How all these technologies made politicians more accessible.

Next on was Simon Bridges, MP National who talked about his use of the Internet. It’s a tool that helps him being a MP to represent people, allowing people to communicate with him through different channels. He worries about online conversations to become monologues. A limitation of Twitter for example is the difficulty of having a debate over 140 characters and the noise it generates. He is keen on the differentiation between information and knowledge.

Gareth Morgan, MP Greens followed saying since taking the ICT portfolio he sees technology as a tool that helps politicians be where people are. If they are to represent people then they have to have a presence on Facebook, Reddit and other online debate platforms.

Clare Curran, MP Labour (and the only one I saw around the Nethui for the last two days as well) was the last of the MPs. HThe Internet in her view made politicians more human and more accessible. The technology also made those politicians “punch bags”. It also created a resource that allows crowdsourcing policy making.

Clare Curran asked the audience to stand up to the proposed bill extending the powers of the GCSB. Almost the entire audience stood up to show their view on this change in the law.



Posted Microsoft Windows Surface Pro with Windows 8.1 first impressions on Geekzone

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 1-Jul-2013 13:02

I’ve just spent a month with a Microsoft Windows Surface Pro hybrid (tablet/laptop) device here. It’s now being reset so that a courier can collect it to return to Microsoft. Pretty good device, loved the design and details (magnetic plug for charger and external USB charger plug in the power brick).

Installed Windows 8.1 Preview on this device over the weekend and posted comments on Geekzone. Overall a pretty good update, although still a preview, meaning things can and will change a lot until the release is ready.



Disrupting WhatsApp worries mobile operators

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 14-Jun-2013 09:35

WhatsApp, the messaging app available for pretty much all smartphone and feature phone platforms around these days (Android, BlackBerry, iOS, S40, Symbian, Windows Phone) is the disrupting app that worries mobile operators most.

At least this is what I’ve heard around.

And it may be justified. Exactly one year ago (June 2012) Forrester said “SMS usage remains strong in the US: 6 billion SMS messages are sent each day.”

Today, almost one year to the date from that report we see the news WhatsApp is delivering 27 billion messages daily. This comes only six months after WhatsApp disclosed they were  delivering 11 billion messages a day (December 2012) worldwide.

Some people will say “mobile operators are happy because they charge mobile data”. Remember though that mobile data costs the operator while SMS is a by-product of the platform.



DIA filter causing problems accessing Google services in New Zealand?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 29-May-2013 12:00

Someone reported on Geekzone about problems accessing Google+ Photos and Picasa albums from New Zealand.

An industry person involved in the discussion commented:

“Hi guys - thanks for the heads up on this. Something odd is going on but I can't be specific about what it is I'm afraid. We are working towards a resolution. This isn't affecting all ISPs but is affecting several in NZ.”

When asked if a Telecom solution would need to be implemented on Vodafone (another ISP who joined the DIA filter initiative):

“I'll tell John [Vodafone person] what's up. I'm not sure whether this specific issue will turn out to require an ISP specific solution or not. I would expect VF was affected as well - thanks for confirming.”

The next thing we know someone tells us that there’s a rumour about the New Zealand DIA Filter being configured to block an IP address belonging to Google, affecting not only the previously mentioned services but also GMail.

Remember, the DIA filter is optional for ISPs, but once an ISP sign up for it, then it will filter all traffic, for all its customers. From TechLiberty:

“The filter works by creating alternative routes to particular network IP addresses and passing them onto the participating ISPs. Traffic to those IP addresses is then passed to the DIA and checked by the filter to see whether it is going to the blocked site or another site on the same IP address. If it is going to a blocked site, the user is redirected to www.dce.net.nz, or else it allowed through the DIA's ISP and out onto the Internet.”

There is more commentary from Techliberty here.

I have contacted both Telecom and Vodafone about this issue. A Vodafone spokesperson responded “Thanks for your email, but we don’t have anything to add to the comments.” Telecom’s comments were “We have no specific comment to make. We understand that Google are looking into it, and we are happy for them to resolve.”

The DIA did not respond for requests for comments.



First Yelp app review from New Zealand is out!

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 2-May-2013 20:38

The first Yelp app review from a New Zealand “customer” is out… And it’s not good. Except, of course, if you discount the fact the poor one star review comes from the competitor’s marketing department, as shown below:

 

Yelp launched in New Zealand 2nd May. The service is a local business guide and review site with social networking features, launched in the USA in 2004 and is now in 21 countries, uses 12 languages and had more than 100 million monthly unique visitors in January of this year. Localist is the local brand of a similar service. Someone there must be feeling threatened. Or is it a prank by someone else?

Thanks to @jaredvh for the tip.



Is Facebook two factor security message showing in timeline for you too?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 26-Apr-2013 16:25

I have had two factor authentication in various accounts for ages, including Facebook. Just today I've noticed that every time Facebook send me a SMS with the authentication code, it posts a message in my timeline, like so:



Apparently I am not the only one, as someone commented in one of these entries "Good to see I'm not the only one with these messages popping up on my timeline"

Can Facebook really win anyone's trust one day?




Storytelling of Science

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Apr-2013 11:39

Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins and others discuss the Storytelling of Science, hosted by Arizona State University’s Origins Project.




Telecom New Zealand decides to stick with Yahoo! email service, Yahoo! compromised again?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 10-Apr-2013 07:46

A few weeks ago there was a massive breach of security in the Yahoo! email service behind the Telecom @xtra.co.nz addresses. according to information supplied by Yahoo! in a press release up to 20% of 400,000 active email accounts had been compromised.

Telecom employees worked hard day and night to manage the situation. Most of the action needed from consumers of this service involved password reset. This caused lots of trouble to people who weren’t able to access their accounts from email clients or third party services.

After the event a review was launched by Telecom New Zealand: ““We share the frustration that our customers have been experiencing over recent months. We fully appreciate that repeatedly saying ‘sorry’ doesn’t cut it anymore. We are committed to taking a close, hard look at the best way to meet our customers’ email needs.”

Almost a month after Telecom announced they decided to stick with Yahoo! as the email provider for its consumer ISP service: “Telecom New Zealand announced today that it will continue to offer its Yahoo! Xtra email service with Yahoo as its email provider, after receiving strong feedback from customers around the high value they place on it and obtaining a commitment from Yahoo! that it would work with Telecom to improve the customer experience of the service.”

It took Yahoo! a week to acknowledge something was wrong:

Yahoo! is continuing to work with Telecom to ensure Yahoo! Xtra mail accounts that were compromised last weekend have been secured and its in-depth investigation into the circumstances surrounding this issue is on-going.

“There is a lot of misinformation around what may have caused this vulnerability in the Yahoo! email product and the type of information that may have been compromised. There is currently no evidence to support reports that access has been gained to any user information beyond the customer's email address book or that this issue is related to any issues overseas, although we continue to investigate this,” say Laura Maxwell-Hansen, GM Yahoo! New Zealand. 

A “lot of misinformation” said Yahoo! so I asked the PR person if they could clarify exactly what happened, so that we could post the correct information and the reply was “It’s not appropriate to disclose that information as these details could be misused and may assist a hacker in the future.”

Either they were not sure what cause the problem in first place or there was no fix being released soon. Otherwise how could disclosing it “assist a hacker in the future”? Obviously we don’t know for sure because of all this security by obscurity.

Guess what? Almost three weeks after the events, and just a week after Telecom’s decision to stick with Yahoo! as its email provider it seems the @xtra.co.nz email service has been compromised again. This is from their network status page:

UPDATE: Here is what the Inbox folder of a compromised mailbox looks like when the account sends spam out and starts receiving bounces from servers reporting invalid addresses… Just look at the frequency of spam being sent:

(Imnage courtesy of Geekzone user possum888)



Geekzone experience using Pingdom RUM

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 5-Apr-2013 08:15

After seeing a couple of my tweets about analytics and performance the folks at Pingdom asked me a few questions to put together a blog about Geekzone performance. How we maintain the site, how we collect data (including real user monitoring and analytics) and what makes the site run.

You can see some interesting information about browser usage and speeds in our State of Browsers on Geekzone March 2013.

We have been using the Pingdom RUM service pretty much from the start of the beta, released first week of January and should be out of beta soon.



freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I work for Intergen and I'm also the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums.

Subscribe now to my blog RSS feed or the Geekzone RSS feed.

If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me freitasm@geekzone.co.nz. Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

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