HOUSTON, Texas | DMN – Former First Lady Barbara Bush has been admitted to Methodist Hospital in Houston, a spokesperson for the hospital has confirmed. Methodist spokesman George Kovacik says Barbara was showing early signs of pneumonia. The Office of George H. W. Bush issued the following statement: “Former First Lady Barbara Bush was admitted to Methodist Hospital in Houston’s Texas Medical Center yesterday for treatment on a respiratory related issue. She is in great spirits, has already received visits from her husband and family, and is receiving fantastic care.” In 2008, Bush was admitted to Methodist after suffering a perforated ulcer. Two years later, the former first lady returned to Methodist for routine but precautionary tests.
A US federal judge has reaffirmed an Obama administration policy granting officials the authority to search Americans’ laptops, citing a controversial premise that makes citizens within 100 miles of the border eligible for a police check. District Judge Edward Korman made his ruling in New York on Tuesday, more than three years after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit. The ACLU claimed that – since Americans put so much of their lives on their computers, cell phones, and other devices – border officials should have reasonable suspicion before sifting through someone’s personal files.
Attorneys argued that searches conducted without reasonable suspicion are a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. Not so, according to Judge Korman. In his decision Tuesday he argued that the area 100 miles inland falls under a “border exemption.” “Laptops have only come into widespread use in the twenty-first century. Prior to that time, lawyers, photographers, and scholars managed to travel overseas and consult with clients, take photographs, and conduct scholarly research,” wrote Korman.
“No one ever suggested the possibility of a border search had a chilling effect on his or her First Amendment rights. While it is true that laptops make overseas work more convenient, the precaution plaintiffs may choose to take to ‘mitigate’ the alleged harm associated with the remote possibility of a border search are simply among the many inconveniences associated with international travel.” The federal government has long conducted searches on travelers entering and leaving the US, but Congress expanded that policy by creating the Department of Homeland Security and setting up at least 33 checkpoints inside the country where people are stopped and asked to prove their citizenship.
The trouble is, the ACLU noted, that almost two-thirds of the population (197.4 million people) live within 100 miles of the US border. New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and dozens of other major metropolitan areas fall under the so-called “exemption” zone. The civil-liberties advocacy group filed suit in 2010 on behalf of Pascal Abidor, a 29-year-old Islamic Studies student whose laptop computer was held for 11 days when he was traveling by Amtrak rail from Canada to his parents’ home in New York.
Abidor was sitting in the train’s cafe car when an officer forced him to take out his laptop then “ordered Mr. Abidor to enter his password,” the suit claimed. The computer contained images of Hamas and Hezbollah rallies and the agents, unmoved by Abidor’s assertion the images were related to his studies, handcuffed the young man and kept him detained for three hours, questioning him numerous times. Department of Homeland Security data indicates that 6,500 people had their devices search between 2008 and 2010 alone.
Catherine Crump, the ACLU attorney who argued Abidor’s case, told Wired that the group was considering filing an appeal. “We’re disappointed in today’s decision, which allows the government to conduct intrusive searches of Americans’ laptops and other electronics at the border without any suspicion that those devices contain evidence of wrongdoing,” she said. “Suspicionless searches of devices containing vast amounts of personal information cannot meet the standard set by the Fourth Amendment… Unfortunately, these searches are part of a broader pattern of aggressive government surveillance that collects information on too many innocent people, under lax standards, and without adequate oversight.”
The hit’s just keep on coming for the National Security Agency. Security researcher Jacob Appelbaum dropped a bombshell of sorts earlier this week when he accused American tech companies of placing government-friendly backdoors in their devices. Now Texas-based Dell Computers is offering an apology. Or to put it more accurately, Dell told an irate customer on Monday that they “regret the inconvenience” caused by selling to the public for years a number of products that the intelligence community has been able to fully compromise in complete silence up until this week.
Dell, Apple, Western Digital and an array of other Silicon Valley-firms were all name-checked during Appelbaum’s hour-long presentation Monday at the thirtieth annual Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg, Germany. As DMN reported then, the 30-year-old hacker-cum-activist unveiled before the audience at the annual expo a collection of never-before published National Security Agency documents detailing how the NSA goes to great lengths to compromise the computers and systems of groups on its long list of adversaries.
Spreading viruses and malware to infect targets and eavesdrop on their communications is just one of the ways the United States’ spy firm conducts surveillance, Appelbaum said. Along with those exploits, he added, the NSA has been manually inserting microscopic computer chips into commercially available products and using custom-made devices like hacked USB cables to silently collect intelligence.
One of the most alarming methods of attack discussed during his address, however, comes as a result of all but certain collusion on the part of major United States tech companies. The NSA has information about vulnerabilities in products sold by the biggest names in the US computer industry, Appelbaum said, and at the drop off a hat the agency has the ability of launching any which type of attack to exploit the flaws in publically available products.
The NSA has knowledge pertaining to vulnerabilities in computer servers made by Dell and even Apple’s highly popular iPhone, among other devices, Appelbaum told his audience. “Hey Dell, why is that?” Appelbaum asked. “Love to hear your statement about that.” Equally as curious were Dave Waterson and Martijn Wismeijer — two IT experts who took to Twitter to express their outrage before Appelbaum’s lecture was even presented and preliminary information about the NSA leaks were published in an article he co-authored for Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. “NSA planet backdoors to access devices from Cisco, Dell, Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung,”Waterson wrote in a tweet that linked to a CNET article from Sunday that quoted from Der Spiegel’s top-secret documents.
“Thanks,” Wismeijer wrote on Monday. “I just found out my Dell server has NSA bug in Rand BIOS,” he said of one critical component that’s easily exploited, according to Appelbaum.
“There are times when big brands with ‘social media people’ might want to teach those junior level employees to recognize that using one of the standard ‘scripted’ answers might be inappropriate,” opined Masnick.
Appelbaum didn’t leave Dell off the hook after revealing just that one exploit known to the NSA, however. Before concluding his presentation, he displayed a top-secret document in which the agency makes reference to a hardware implant that could be manually installed onto Dell PowerEdge servers to exploit the JTAG debugging interface on its processor — a critical circuitry component that apparently contains a vulnerability known to the US government. “Why did Dell leave a JTAG debugging interface on these servers?” asked Appelbaum. “Because it’s like leaving a vulnerability in. Is that a bugdoor, or a backdoor or just a mistake? Well hopefully they will change these things or at least make it so that if you were to see this, you would know that you have some problems. Hopefully Dell will release some information about how to mitigate this advance persistent threat.”
Appelbaum also provoked Apple by acknowledging that the NSA boasts of being able to hack into any of their mobile devices running the iOS operating system. “Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products — meaning they are hoarding information about critical systems American companies product and sabotaging them — or Apple sabotages it themselves,” he said. “Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone,” the company responded through an official statement on Tuesday. “Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.”
Meanwhile, other top-tier computer companies have already addressed Der Spiegel and Appelbaum’s allegations that they either colluded with the NSA or complied with the spy firm as they exploited vulnerabilities, known or unknown, in their own products. A representative for Microsoft told the Huffington Post on Monday that their companies “does not provide any government with direct or unfettered access to our customer’s data” and said the tech giant “would have significant concerns if the allegations about government actions are true,” but a Washington, DC representative for Chinese company Huawei was more upfront when reached for comment by Wired about any cooperation with the US government or other entities.
“We read the media reports, and we’ve noted the references to Huawei and our peers,” Huawei vice president William Plummer told Wired from the US capital. “As we have said, over and over again — and as now seems to be validated — threats to networks and data integrity can come from any and many sources.” “Everything that the United States government accused the Chinese of doing — which they are also doing, I believe — we are learning that the United States government has been doing to American companies,” Appelbaum said towards the end of Monday’s presentation. “That to me is really concerning and we’ve had no public debate about these issues.”
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas | DMN — Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, has asked Republican Lieutenant Gov. Mark Darr, the state’s second in command, to resign over campaign finance impropriety. Beebe called Darr on Tuesday to ask for his resignation, according to a spokesman for Beebe, after an Arkansas ethics commission ruled that Darr had broken 11 campaign finance laws since 2010. “I think it’s in everybody’s best interest, including Mr. Darr, if he resign,” Beebe said at the press conference. “The facts speak for themselves. Other people resigned, other people of varying degrees of similar situations.”
The Ethics Commission released a letter Monday offering Darr a settlement to claims that he misspent campaign funds and failed to keep complete records. The commission proposed $1,000 fines for each of 11 violations and said that, by signing, Darr agreed with the findings. Darr signed the settlement later that day. Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson called the violations “troubling and serious.” Hutchinson said elected officials should be held accountable for their conduct. “In the case of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, the ethical violations are troubling and serious and should be reviewed by the prosecuting attorney. As a former prosecutor, I understand the importance of holding public officials accountable for improper conduct,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson added that if criminal charges are filed then Darr should resign. “In my view, the public has a right to expect the highest level of ethical conduct by its elected officials and the public should demand resignation when criminal conduct has occurred. It should be noted that only a prosecutor or grand jury can assess the question of criminal conduct and whether there is probable cause for criminal charges. It is my understanding that the Pulaski County prosecutor is reviewing the ethical violations of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr. It is important that the prosecutor assess the violations to determine whether criminal conduct has occurred and charges should be filed. If criminal charges are filed then a resignation should be demanded. Until then, we should let the process work and expect the decision of the Ethics Commission in terms of fine and amended reports to be fulfilled,” Hutchinson said.
Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own. “Our elected officials must be held to the highest possible standard, and they must have the people’s absolute trust and confidence in order to effectively do their jobs. Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr has admitted he improperly spent campaign and taxpayer dollars, and therefore he should act in the best interest of the state of Arkansas and resign immediately,” Ross said. Republican members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation, Sen. John Boozman, Reps. Rick Crawford (AR-1), Tim Griffin (AR-2), Steve Womack (AR-3), and Tom Cotton (AR-4), issued a joint statement Tuesday calling for the immediate resignation of Lt. Governor Mark Darr, saying:
“As elected officials, we are keepers of the public trust. We are bound by a very strict code of conduct that is the basis of that trust. Based on Lt. Governor Darr’s own admissions, it is clear he has violated that trust, and he should step down immediately for the good of our state.”
A spokesperson for Darr said Tuesday morning the lieutenant governor had no plans to quit.
The pervasiveness of the surveillance capabilities of the National Security Agency can be told by some of the gadgets available to those doing the snooping. When it comes to modern firewalls for corporate computer networks, the world’s second largest network equipment manufacturer doesn’t skimp on praising its own work. According to Juniper Networks’ online PR copy, the company’s products are “ideal” for protecting large companies and computing centers from unwanted access from outside. They claim the performance of the company’s special computers is “unmatched” and their firewalls are the “best-in-class.” Despite these assurances, though, there is one attacker none of these products can fend off — the United States’ National Security Agency.
Specialists at the intelligence organization succeeded years ago in penetrating the company’s digital firewalls. A document viewed by SPIEGEL resembling a product catalog reveals that an NSA division called ANT has burrowed its way into nearly all the security architecture made by the major players in the industry — including American global market leader Cisco and its Chinese competitor Huawei, but also producers of mass-market goods, such as US computer-maker Dell. These NSA agents, who specialize in secret back doors, are able to keep an eye on all levels of our digital lives — from computing centers to individual computers, and from laptops to mobile phones. For nearly every lock, ANT seems to have a key in its toolbox. And no matter what walls companies erect, the NSA’s specialists seem already to have gotten past them.
This, at least, is the impression gained from flipping through the 50-page document. The list reads like a mail-order catalog, one from which other NSA employees can order technologies from the ANT division for tapping their targets’ data. The catalog even lists the prices for these electronic break-in tools, with costs ranging from free to $250,000. In the case of Juniper, the name of this particular digital lock pick is “FEEDTROUGH.” This malware burrows into Juniper firewalls and makes it possible to smuggle other NSA programs into mainframe computers. Thanks to FEEDTROUGH, these implants can, by design, even survive “across reboots and software upgrades.” In this way, US government spies can secure themselves a permanent presence in computer networks. The catalog states that FEEDTROUGH “has been deployed on many target platforms.”
The specialists at ANT, which presumably stands for Advanced or Access Network Technology, could be described as master carpenters for the NSA’s department for Tailored Access Operations (TAO). In cases where TAO’s usual hacking and data-skimming methods don’t suffice, ANT workers step in with their special tools, penetrating networking equipment, monitoring mobile phones and computers and diverting or even modifying data. Such “implants,” as they are referred to in NSA parlance, have played a considerable role in the intelligence agency’s ability to establish a global covert network that operates alongside the Internet. Some of the equipment available is quite inexpensive. A rigged monitor cable that allows “TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor,” for example, is available for just $30. But an “active GSM base station” — a tool that makes it possible to mimic a mobile phone tower and thus monitor cell phones — costs a full $40,000. Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data via radio undetected, are available in packs of 50 for over $1 million.
The ANT division doesn’t just manufacture surveillance hardware. It also develops software for special tasks. The ANT developers have a clear preference for planting their malicious code in so-called BIOS, software located on a computer’s motherboard that is the first thing to load when a computer is turned on. This has a number of valuable advantages: an infected PC or server appears to be functioning normally, so the infection remains invisible to virus protection and other security programs. And even if the hard drive of an infected computer has been completely erased and a new operating system is installed, the ANT malware can continue to function and ensures that new spyware can once again be loaded onto what is presumed to be a clean computer. The ANT developers call this “Persistence” and believe this approach has provided them with the possibility of permanent access.
Another program attacks the firmware in hard drives manufactured by Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung, all of which, with the exception of the latter, are American companies. Here, too, it appears the US intelligence agency is compromising the technology and products of American companies. Other ANT programs target Internet routers meant for professional use or hardware firewalls intended to protect company networks from online attacks. Many digital attack weapons are “remotely installable” — in other words, over the Internet. Others require a direct attack on an end-user device — an “interdiction,” as it is known in NSA jargon — in order to install malware or bugging equipment.
There is no information in the documents seen by SPIEGEL to suggest that the companies whose products are mentioned in the catalog provided any support to the NSA or even had any knowledge of the intelligence solutions. “Cisco does not work with any government to modify our equipment, nor to implement any so-called security ‘back doors’ in our products,” the company said in a statement. Contacted by SPIEGEL reporters, officials at Western Digital, Juniper Networks and Huawei also said they had no knowledge of any such modifications. Meanwhile, Dell officials said the company “respects and complies with the laws of all countries in which it operates.”
Many of the items in the software solutions catalog date from 2008, and some of the target server systems that are listed are no longer on the market today. At the same time, it’s not as if the hackers within the ANT division have been sleeping on the job. They have continued to develop their arsenal. Some pages in the 2008 catalog, for example, list new systems for which no tools yet exist. However, the authors promise they are already hard at work developing new tools and that they will be “pursued for a future release.”
Apple has denied any knowledge of a National Security Agency tool to hack into iPhones after newly-released documents showed the tech giant’s bestselling phone was targeted by the spying agency. Documents released Monday showed the NSA had worked on software that would allow it to remotely retrieve virtually all the information on an iPhone including text messages, photos, contacts, location, voice mail and live calls.
The software, DropoutJeep, was first disclosed by Der Spiegel and security researcher Jacob Appelbaum. The NSA slides are dated 2008, a year after the first iPhone was launched. In a statement, Apple said: “Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a back door in any of our products, including iPhone. Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products. We care deeply about our customers’ privacy and security. Our team is continuously working to make our products even more secure, and we make it easy for customers to keep their software up to date with the latest advancements.
“Whenever we hear about attempts to undermine Apple’s industry-leading security, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate steps to protect our customers. We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them.” According to the slides, DropoutJeep required “close access methods” in order to be installed on an iPhone, meaning NSA agents would need physical access to the device. However, the slide notes: “A remote installation capability will be pursued for future use.”
The slides mention iOS5, an iPhone operating system that was launched in June 2011 and updated by iOS6 in September 2012. It is not clear whether the NSA managed to develop the ability for perform remote installation. Given that Apple sof 250m iPhones in its first five years, large scale implementation of DropoutJeep seems unlikely by close access methods. The spyware is one of the tools employed by the NSA’s ANT (Advanced or Access Network Technology) division to gain backdoor access to various electronic devices. According to Applebaum, the NSA claims a 100% success rate on installation of the program.
Apple, along with its peers, has consistently denied working with the NSA unless it has been legally compelled to do so. The NSA documents, first obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden, have revealed that the NSA has developed the capability to hack other companies, including Google and Yahoo, without their knowledge. The slide is dated four years before the NSA included Apple in its Prism monitoring program. Apple was the last of the big tech companies to be included in the program, designed to ease data collection for the NSA. Microsoft, by contrast, joined the scheme in 2007, according to the NSA’s slides.
BANGUI, Central African Republic, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Children in the Central African Republic are victims of “unprecedented” levels of violence, with at least 16 killed and 60 wounded in unrest there, UNICEF says.
CASSELTON, North Dakota | DMN — A shift in the weather could increase the risk of potential health hazards after a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed in North Dakota and set off explosions, said authorities who were “strongly recommending” that residents in a nearby town evacuate. About 2,400 people live in Casselton, about a mile from Monday’s fiery derailment. The Cass County Sheriff’s Office was urging residents there and those living five miles to the south and east to leave their homes because of the weather shift — which it said the National Weather Service was forecasting — that could put toxic fumes into people’s homes. “That’s going to put the plume right over the top of Casselton,” Sheriff Paul Laney said.
The freight train carrying crude oil hit another train hauling grain that had derailed on Monday afternoon, causing an explosion and sending flames shooting more than 100 feet into the air. No injuries were immediately reported. Authorities said local emergency crews responding to reports of a derailment discovered the oil train burning, with up to 10 cars fully engulfed. “There was an explosion, where a car let loose and there was a giant fireball, hundreds of feet in the air,” said Assistant Chief Gary Lorenz of the City of Fargo Fire Department, who was in touch with a crew on the scene. “It’s burning very strong right now,” he added. “You can see the plume of smoke for 25 miles.”
The collision occurred at a street intersection just before 2:20 p.m., when the westbound BNSF Railway train carrying grain derailed and was then hit by the eastbound train carrying oil, Cecily Fong, a public information officer with North Dakota Emergency Services, told NBC News. Both trains were owned by BNSF, she said. Amy McBeth, a spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, confirmed the collision but said she could provide no additional details. Fong said the train carrying grain was approximately 111 cars long and crews were able to get the unaffected cars separated from the burning wreckage and moved out of the way.
Fong said the Federal Aviation Administration was putting flight restrictions in place over the area due to the smoke. Kevin Thompson, a Federal Railroad Administration spokesman, told NBC News that the agency was sending investigators to the scene. “The Federal Railroad Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have investigative teams en route to North Dakota and will work in concert with the National Transportation Safety Board, the lead investigator, to ascertain all the relevant facts that may have contributed to the accident,” he said.
My friend Scott Braddock, a Texas journalist expressed some relief days ago that the outage over Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson would not carry over into 2014. I have to admit that I was relieved as well, after all, there are much more important things to be outraged about. However,since today is a slower news day, I have decided to share with you some new things to be outraged about going into 2014. It’s 99% nonsense but then again, that’s pretty much what the mainstream media is all about these days so…here it goes:
An MSNBC host apologized Tuesday morning after she and panelists on her weekend program faced criticism after poking fun at a photo of Mitt Romney, his wife and their nearly two dozen grandchildren, zeroing in on the Romneys’ recently adopted African-American grandchild, Kieran. “I am sorry. Without reservation or qualification. I apologize to the Romney family. #MHPapology,” Melissa Harris-Perry wrote on Twitter. “As black child born into large white Mormon family I feel familiarity w/ Romney family pic & never meant to suggest otherwise.” “I apologize to all families built on loving transracial adoptions who feel I degraded their lives or choices,” she continued, on Twitter.
During the segment, which appeared on the show “Melissa Harris-Perry,” the panelists made jokes about the infant standing out. Two panelists later said their comments weren’t directed at the baby and apologized if the family was offended. Asked Sunday to come up with captions for the photo as part of a game they were playing, one of panelists, actress Pia Glenn, started singing lines from the song popularized by Sesame Street: “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.” Another panelist, comedian Dean Obeidallah, said the picture “really sums up the diversity of the Republican Party.” (Obeidallah appears frequently on CNN and writes a regular opinion column for CNN.com.) Harris-Perry described the baby as “gorgeous,” before predicting Kieran would one day marry North West, the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. “Can you imagine Mitt Romney and Kanye West as in-laws?” Harris-Perry said, drawing laughs. CNN reached out to Romney and MSNBC for a comment.
While Scott and I both thought the Phil Robertson controversy was over…apparently there is more. Video footage of reinstated Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson has emerged in which he appears to advise young men to marry underage girls because they are easier to control. In the 2009 Sportsmen’s Ministry talk, Robertson, 67, who began dating his wife when she was 14-years-old, advises his audience, ‘You got to marry these girls when they are 15 or 16. They’ll pick your ducks’ – which is a literal reference to removing dead bird’s feathers. Warming to his stereotypical redneck theme, Robertson, who was suspended from the A&E hit for nine days earlier this month for homophobic comments, tells the gathered crowd that in addition to being young, the girls have to know how to cook and carry a Bible – ‘That’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road.’
While the speech given in Georgia is recounted in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, in light of Robertson’s strong views on traditional family values – protected by the First Amendment – they seem slightly inappropriate. His advice for a happy marriage, which he claims is a kind of ‘river rat counseling’, is that all men ‘Make sure that she can cook a meal. You need to eat some meals that she cooks, check that out.’
So…there’s some fresh nonsense to be mad about going into the New Year if that’s your thing. Personally, I am not one of the 121,000 people who watch morning TV on MSNBC and I am not a Duck Dynasty regular. Actually, I could care less. Did I mention that Justin Bieber is retiring? Now that sounds somewhat intriguing…