Headlines of the day I: Spooks, zones, hacks, lies


In the spirit of the season, we begin with this bit of news from the security sector via the London Daily Mail:

Churches are given GPS TRACKERS to stop thieves stealing baby Jesus from nativity scenes

  • Each year, baby Jesus figurines are stolen from Nativity scenes
  • Brickhouse Security is giving free GPS tracking devices to churches to monitor their Jesus figurines
  • The matchbox sized device is attached to the figurines and tracked online
  • This is the eighth year Brickhouse Security has offered its ‘Save Jesus’ program

Now down to the serious news.

While we’ll have plenty on the Asian zonal crises after the jump, weve pollued this from the Mainichi because it’s really an epochal event, the explicit shift of Japanese policy from the stance officially maintained throughout the post-World War II era:

Panel eyes submitting report on collective self-defense in spring

A key member of a panel on security affairs said Sunday he expects the panel to recommend as early as spring that the government lift a self-imposed ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense.

Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan who serves as acting chairman of the panel, said the panel plans to submit a report on its recommendation to the government immediately after parliament passes the state budget for fiscal 2014, which will start April 1.

“It’s not an issue that would require a few months. It is possible (for the panel to) file a proposal immediately after” the Diet approves the budget, Kitaoka said in a television program.

Our next headline and another notable development via USA TODAY:

Sen. Leahy sets January hearing on NSA surveillance

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced Sunday that his committee will hold a hearing Jan. 14 to review recommendations for overhauling government surveillance programs.

Last week, the White House released a report by a five-member panel appointed by President Obama spelling out 46 recommendations for revising surveillance programs. Obama had requested the report in the wake of revelations this year that the National Security Agency was collecting vast swaths of phone and computer records. Among other things, the panel recommended that the NSA shut down a massive database that includes nearly every phone call made and received in the USA, and that the president create a new process requiring high-level approval to spy on foreign leaders.

“The recommendations from the President’s Review Group make clear that it is time to recalibrate our government’s surveillance programs,” Leahy said in a statement issued after his appearance on Meet the Press to discuss the issue. “Momentum is building for real reform.” He said all of the panel members will be invited to testify at the committee hearing.

Meanwhile, the NSA’s defenders are growing more assetive. One exaple from Bloomberg :

NSA Didn’t Overreach With Phone Records, Morell Says

The U.S. National Security Agency didn’t abuse its authority in collecting the bulk phone records of millions of Americans and the spy program should continue under a new structure, said Michael Morell, a former deputy CIA director.

The collection of information such as numbers dialed and call durations is important to U.S. counterterrorism efforts, Morell said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program today.

“There was no abuse here,” said Morell, who served on an advisory panel picked by President Barack Obama that recommended limits on data collection and storage in a report released Dec. 18. “They were doing exactly what they were told to do.”

And another from The Hill:

King blasts Obama on NSA

A high-ranking House Republican on Sunday attacked President Obama for failing to defend the National Security Agency in the wake of massive leaks on the spy agency’s activities.

House Intelligence Committee member  Peter King (R-N.Y.) decried Obama’s posture on the beleaguered spying agency after revelations that it had been collecting “metadata” and holding it.

“I wish the president would step forward and defend the NSA. What he says is, he says ‘no abuse, the intelligence is absolutely necessary.’ But then he says we have to reform it. What does he want to reform if it’s working?” the New York lawmaker asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

More from the Mainichi:

Congress eyes spy review in surveillance logjam

A White House review of U.S. surveillance programs has given Congress some temporary political cover after lawmakers failed this year to overhaul spy operations, and could break the legislative snarl that followed months of global outrage over privacy intrusions.

Since last summer, a deeply divided Congress has tussled over competing plans to protect Americans’ privacy rights by limiting National Security Agency powers to track terrorists.

But a presidential advisory panel’s 46 tough recommendations, released this past week by the White House, offer a way ahead for lawmakers who face the voters next fall. They can point to the suggestions to save face politically with security-minded constituents if surveillance is scaled back aggressively.

From the Los Angeles Times, some perspective:

A spy world reshaped by Edward Snowden

Leaks from the former NSA contractor have been so illuminating that experts say they mark a turning point in U.S. intelligence operations.

Clapper and his colleagues now operate in a spy world reshaped by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who claims responsibility for what officials deem the largest and most damaging compromise of classified information in U.S. history. Among the casualties is the assumption that some of the nation’s most carefully guarded secrets will stay secret.

NSA officials say Snowden downloaded and removed about 1.7 million documents from computer networks at an NSA listening post in Hawaii where he worked until June. The haul included about 2,000 specific requests for NSA surveillance that officials say make up a digital road map of spying successes and gaps in such high-profile targets as Iran, Russia, North Korea and China.

The requests have not been made public. But other leaks from Snowden’s cache have been so illuminating that experts say the disclosures will mark a turning point in U.S. spying, much as revelations of CIA assassinations and NSA domestic spying led to creation of the congressional oversight committees and new laws in the 1970s.

The Globe and Mail conducts the anatomy of a blowback:

How U.S. spying cost Boeing multibillion-dollar Brazil jet contract  How U.S. spying cost Boeing multibillion-dollar Brazil jet contract

Defence analysts struggled to recall a major contract decided on such grounds.

“The irony is that we expected politics to play a big role, but always on the selling side, not on the downside,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group. “Then things went horribly wrong with this NSA story.”

And from the Associated Press, some ornamental rage and the inevitable whine:

Israel condemns US spying revelations

Officials call on US to stop spying on Israel amid renewed calls for release of Jonathan Pollard, jailed in 1980s for spying

Israeli protesters in Jerusalem hold posters of Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted for spying on the US in 1987. Photograph: Ammar Awad/Reuters

Senior Israeli officials have called on the US to stop spying on Israel, after revelations that the National Security Agency had intercepted emails from the offices of the country’s former leaders.

It is the first time Israeli officials have expressed anger since details of US spying on Israel began to trickle out in documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The scandal has spurred renewed calls for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a former US intelligence analyst who has been imprisoned in the US for nearly three decades for spying for Israel.

From Boing Boing, the ultimate in IP idiocy:

FBI agent tries to copyright super-secret torture manual, inadvertently makes it public

The ACLU has spent years in court trying to get a look at a top-secret FBI interrogation manual that referred to the CIA’s notorious KUBARK torture manual. The FBI released a heavily redacted version at one point — so redacted as to be useless for determining whether its recommendations were constitutional.

However, it turns out that the FBI agent who wrote the manual sent a copy to the Library of Congress in order to register a copyright in it — in his name! (Government documents are not copyrightable, but even if they were, the copyright would vest with the agent’s employer, not the agent himself). A Mother Jones reporter discovered the unredacted manual at the Library of Congress last week, and tipped off the ACLU about it.

And off to Asia, starting with constraint from Kyodo News:

China to tighten control of universities’ journalism schools

The Chinese Communist Party has decided to become directly involved in the management of the country’s top journalism schools and strengthen the administration of those universities, it was learned Sunday from university and media sources.

The moves appear to be aimed at promoting “thought reform” to reject “Western values” such as freedom of the press and to foster human resources loyal to the party, according to the sources.

The leadership of President Xi Jinping senses a crisis, in the words of one party source, that “it is at universities and in the mass media where reformists (who support such values as democracy) have the most influence.”

NHK WORLD covers a provocation from the Japanese side:

Chinese patrol ships enter Japanese waters

Four Chinese patrol ships temporarily entered Japan’s territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture on Sunday.

The ships are now navigating in a contiguous zone just outside Japanese waters.

The Coast Guard is monitoring them, and is warning them not to approach Japanese waters again.

SINA English covers the story for Beijing, using the Chinese name for the islands:

China coast guard patrols Diaoyu Islands

Four China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels patrolled territorial waters surrounding the Diaoyu Islands on Sunday, according to the State Oceanic Administration.

The administration identified the four vessels as CCG 2337, 2102, 2112 and 2151

And another provocation elsewhere in Asia from the Times of India:

Chinese troops set up camp in Ladakh’s Chepzi area

Around 20 Chinese soldiers last week entered Indian territory near the line of actual control and pitched their tents in Chepzi area in Ladakh, sources said on Sunday.

Around 20-22 Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers had last week pitched around 8-10 tents in the west of Chepzi in Ladakh area, the sources said.

From RT, assertiveness:

China planning 110,000-ton ‘super aircraft carrier’ to rival US naval power

Following Washington’s move to increase its military footprint in Asia, China has declared it is building a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier of a size to compete with the mightiest in the US naval fleet.

Chinese website qianzhan.com, citing top sources in the People’s Liberation Army, said China’s first domestically produced aircraft carrier should be launched by 2020.

“By that time, China will be able to confront the most advanced US carrier-based fighter jets in high sea,” the Chinese-language article reads.

JapanToday amends:

Japan eyes revision of U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera says the Japanese government is considering asking the U.S. government to discuss a revision to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Onodera made the remarks on a TV program over the weekend.

The proposal is seen as a way of securing Okinawan Gov Hirokazu Nakaima’s approval for the preliminary landfill work for the proposed new site of the Futenma air base.

And the Japan Times calls to digital arms:

Japan seeks cyberwarfare capability

Tokyo looks to U.S. for ways to keep computer systems safe

Discussions are under way to decide if Japan should have the ability to counter cyberattacks by a foreign nation, according to a government source.

This would include being able to attack a server in self-defense if government computer systems were attacked, the source said.

Japan is looking for deterrents to cyberattacks, which have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, the source said, adding the government plans to cooperate with the United States, which has sophisticated counterattack technology.

SINA English covers another battle demarcated by newly declared zones:

H5N2 bird flu areas sealed off in N China

Areas within 3 km of a farm in north China’s Hebei Province, the site of an H5N2 bird flu outbreak in poultry, were confirmed to have been sealed off, according to local government.

The disease killed 4,000 chickens raised at the farm in Baoding City after they showed symptoms of suspected avian flu on Dec. 17, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

The National Avian Influenza Reference Laboratory on Saturday confirmed the epidemic was caused by the H5N2 avian influenza virus after testing samples collected at the farm

From Quartz, the sound of one hand surfing:

The US now watches the majority of its online porn on mobile phones

In 2013, the US earned the distinction of being the first country tracked by Pornhub to watch the majority of its online porn on mobile phones. About 52% of porn consumption was on mobile phones this year, compared to 46% last year, according to Pornhub. That’s significantly higher than anywhere else.

TechHive casts a look over their shoulders:

Smart devices get smarter, but are still short on security

As you shop for that new “smart” refrigerator that can do everything including figuring out when you’re low on milk, perhaps you should also think about the risk of some mischievous hacker taking control of it and having 5000 gallons of milk delivered to your door.

Unlikely, yes, but possible. And that’s just inconvenient. What about a hacker who unlocks your doors while you’re away?

That scenario is real. It has been demonstrated. Security experts have been saying for more than a decade that, in the world of electronic devices, “smart” does not mean secure. They have warned that if security is not made a priority, the convenience provided by those devices will be undermined by cyber criminals.

And for our final item, PCWorld covers fumblefingered exploitation:

Typos online aren’t just a hassle, they’re a hazard

More than a decade after typosquatting became an Internet hazard, criminals and opportunists are still abusing misspelled domains on a scale that is leaving users and businesses out of pocket, consultancy High-Tech Bridge has found.

The company used its ImmuniWeb SaaS Phishing system to analyze 946 “typo” domains that were close but not identical to legitimate domains used by ten well-known antivirus firms; for example, entering “kasperski.com” or “mcaffee.com.”

Of these, High-Tech Bridge detected 385 domains that appeared to be attempting to pass themselves off as one of these domains; just over 40 percent, or 164, turned out to be in some way fraudulent (such as redirecting to phishing sites, or displaying ads for bogus products and services). A further 73 were simply being squatted, presumably in the hope that one of the affected firms might buy them at some point.

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