Security Digest: Our list of security stories that matter, Oct. 11-17


Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Flickr image courtesy Espen Moe.

A 23-year-old college student in Texas says she was extremely embarrassed and humiliated two years ago at a Corpus Christi airport when her blouse was pulled down completely in front of total strangers during an “extended” security search.

The woman’s breasts were exposed in the process, a newly filed suit alleges, and she never heard back from the Transportation Security Administration after filing a complaint about it. The suit, in fact, says TSA employees during the incident laughed and joked about it causing the woman to hurry away.

When she returned to the screening area, workers purportedly began teasing her again. According to the suit: “One male TSA employee expressed to the plaintiff that he wished he would have been there when she came through the first time and that ‘he would just have to watch the video.'”

Ouch. If true, this is precisely the sort of thing that could damage the investment TSA authorities have made in proving to the public their airport security process protects the rights of travelers. They even have a blog dedicated in large part to debunking myths about the TSA’s airport screening procedures.

That hasn’t stopped security workers from allegedly acting up on other occasions. One airport screener says that his co-workers teased him mercilessly after the size of his penis was revealed by a controversial full-body X-ray imager during training.

So, we began pulling together this week’s Security Digest on Sunday night, Oct. 17, and stayed up late wondering if news would break about an expected release from Wikileaks of classified documents, this time related to the war in Iraq. The secrecy-busting website already unleashed tens of thousands of Afghan war records earlier this year, and Wired’s Danger Room blog had reported that a public dump of sensitive material tied to Iraq could reach as high as 400,000 military documents.

By Monday, however, Wikileaks was using its Twitter feed to blast Wired for spreading the rumor. A post attributed to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange complained that it doesn’t discuss upcoming releases, because that might allow governments reflected poorly in leaked documents “to get their spin machines ready.”

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, harshly criticized Wikileaks for its earlier spill of classified info arguing that it could contain the names of Afghans who had cooperated with the United States in its fight against insurgents. That concern may have been deflated somewhat by a new development. The Associated Press first reported Oct. 15 on a letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Congress that said an early review of the records “has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure.”

Danger Room said the reports from Iraq, if eventually posted by Wikileaks, may cover everything from roadside bombs and the scandal-plagued Abu Ghraib prison to thousands of missing guns intended for Iraq security personnel and Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence.

Newly released information shows that the Department of Homeland Security created a special center prior to the inauguration of Barack Obama to search Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for evidence of possible threats. Obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation under the Freedom of Information Act, a document describes how authorities planned to seek out trends and file away “items of interest” from the sites.

Additional documents picked up by EFF revealed that that an agency within DHS, Citizenship and Immigration Services, taught federal agents how to “friend” people who are applying for citizenship in the United States on sites such as Facebook to determine if they were lying about being married to an American. One internal CIS memo emphasizes that many Internet users don’t pay attention to who may be monitoring them on the web:

Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuels a need to have a large group of ‘friends’ link to their pages, and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don’t even know. This provides an excellent vantage point for [the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security] to observe the daily life of beneficiaries and petitioners who are suspected of fraudulent activities. … Once a user posts online, they create a public record and timeline of their activities.

Security expert Bruce Schneier says that the story of Stuxnet is no doubt intriguing, but there are still several unanswered questions and major media outlets have assumed too much about its origin. Stuxnet is an Internet worm that’s highly sophisticated and seems as if it was designed to specifically target certain computer systems, most notably those at a nuclear power plant in Iran.

That’s led to the theory that Western countries (i.e. Israel and/or the United States) developed Stuxnet to quietly disrupt Iran’s nuclear ambitions without having to bomb the place and start World War III. What Schneier will say is that Stuxnet doesn’t behave like it was created by criminals attempting to simply steal from people online for monetary gain:

We don’t know who wrote Stuxnet. We don’t know why. We don’t know what the target is, or if Stuxnet reached it. But you can see why there is so much speculation that it was created by a government. … Stuxnet was expensive to create. Estimates are that it took eight to 10 people six months to write. … Whoever wrote Stuxnet was willing to spend a lot of money to ensure that whatever job it was intended to do would be done.

 

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