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posted by janrinok on Friday September 19 2014, @07:26PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the unless-they-were-'accidentally'-broken dept.

The Register has found itself subject to a certain amount of criticism for this author's skepticism ( Richard Chirgwin http://www.theregister.co.uk/Author/2242 ) regarding whether the NSA has been snooping on optical fibre cables by cutting them.

Glenn Greenwald's recent “NSA cut New Zealand's cables” story is illustrative of credibility problems that surround the ongoing Edward Snowden leak stories: everybody is too willing to accept that “if it's classified, it must be because it's true”, and along the way, attribute super-powers to spy agencies.

In running the line that undersea cables were cut, Greenwald is straying far enough from what's feasible and credible that his judgement on other claims needs to be questioned. It seems to The Register almost certain that neither Glenn Greenwald nor Edward Snowden have actually held a submarine fibre cable in their hands.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/09/18/spies_arent_superheroes/

Do you think that it is credible that these undersea fibre cables were tapped when it is easier to tap onshore installations?

Related Stories

UK Official Warns of Russian Risk to Undersea Cables 33 comments

Russia a 'risk' to undersea cables, defence chief warns

The UK's most senior military officer has warned of a new threat posed by Russia to communications and internet cables that run under the sea. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the chief of the defence staff, said Britain and Nato needed to prioritise protecting the lines of communication. He said it would be an "immediately and potentially catastrophic" hit to the economy if they were cut or disrupted.

The cables criss-cross the seabed, connecting up countries and continents. [...] Speaking to the Royal United Services Institute defence think tank, Sir Stuart said the vulnerability of undersea lines posed a "new risk to our way of life".

Related: Brazil, Europe Direct Cable to avoid US spying
Undersea Cables Wiring the Earth
Spies Would Need SUPER POWERS to Tap Undersea Cables.
160 Tbps Transatlantic Cable Planned
Microsoft, Facebook, and Telxius Complete 160 Tb/s Atlantic Ocean Cable


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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Hairyfeet on Friday September 19 2014, @07:34PM

    by Hairyfeet (75) <bassbeast1968NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday September 19 2014, @07:34PM (#95614) Journal

    Who had a sub attach a recording device to Soviet undersea cable in the 70s, until a traitor at the FBI tipped them off, Robert Hansen I believe. So is the author gonna tell me we no longer have the tech we had in the 70s? Me thinks the 3 letter agencies are pulling a "nothing to see here" because they know they can't stop the leaks. Should we take Snowden at face value? OPf course not but that is the nice thing about Snowden, he took the papers right off THEIR hard drives. So are they trying to say they lie to THEMSELVES as wel as to the public? If that is the case maybe we should just go ahead and demand the disbanding of the NSA for being insane?

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    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday September 19 2014, @07:41PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Friday September 19 2014, @07:41PM (#95619)

      Was the Soviet cable electrical or fiber? It's a lot easier to sense electric fields than to tap a bundle of 9um cores (does the bend-and-sense technique work on multi-fiber cables?)

      • (Score: 5, Interesting) by kaszz on Friday September 19 2014, @07:53PM

        by kaszz (4211) on Friday September 19 2014, @07:53PM (#95622) Journal

        I think the problem is mainly that of making a water tight seal deep down. Or to bring the cable to the surface without breaking it or getting found out. The splicing operation whether by humans or robots would be hard but something where there is industry experience to get it right.

        And as others has mentioned. There's always the land option, IF possible.

        One possible loophole is the 9 kV power supply to the amplifier boxes underwater. Their electrical noise might possible reveal contents.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by edIII on Friday September 19 2014, @10:55PM

          by edIII (791) Subscriber Badge on Friday September 19 2014, @10:55PM (#95694)

          Getting down there and creating a water free working environment is somewhat possible. Somewhat.

          Cutting cables that cost hundreds of millions to put in will be noticed. You can't splice something that complicated in 5 minutes. Where there is downtime, there are people who are making a lot of money that get very concerned about their money. Somebody will be checking. If it comes back online in a few minutes, that's even more suspicious for fiber optical.

          Any attempts at splicing have to be during cable construction, or will require a diversion with a real cut somewhere else.

          Detecting optical signals through all the protective coverings is a flight of fancy. If they could do that, why do it hundreds of feet under water? It might be just as easy on land or close to shore?

          Why even tap a cable at all, when it will all be encrypted? If it's not encrypted, why not just echo it at a point under a little less water? If it is encrypted, than it makes even less sense to catch the packets under the ocean, transfer them via another cable of like size, and analyze them onshore.

          Tapping undersea cables seems a lot harder and more expensive than just compromising the company that owns the land based routers.

          --
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          • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday September 19 2014, @11:11PM

            by kaszz (4211) on Friday September 19 2014, @11:11PM (#95700) Journal

            Compromise the land based operation to be blind when the splicing takes place?

          • (Score: 5, Interesting) by HiThere on Friday September 19 2014, @11:45PM

            by HiThere (866) on Friday September 19 2014, @11:45PM (#95702) Journal

            At one point there was a technique for tapping optical cables by bending rather than cutting the fibers so that some of the signal would leak through. That may not be possible with modern cables, I don't know. (The time I heard of this being done was before gradient density cables, and the cables were only suitable for fairly short runs. Definitely not what you'd use from undersea cables.)

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          • (Score: 3, Insightful) by khallow on Saturday September 20 2014, @01:57AM

            by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday September 20 2014, @01:57AM (#95731) Journal

            Cutting cables that cost hundreds of millions to put in will be noticed. You can't splice something that complicated in 5 minutes.

            Maybe in a fraction of second per fiber (over several weeks) sure. But five minutes is way too long.

            I guess I don't get what's supposed to require a "super-power" here. The US has subs. It has people who know how to tap these cables surreptitiously.

          • (Score: 5, Informative) by tathra on Saturday September 20 2014, @02:36AM

            by tathra (3367) on Saturday September 20 2014, @02:36AM (#95740)

            Getting down there and creating a water free working environment is somewhat possible. Somewhat.

            its not just possible, its routinely done. maybe not with fiberoptics cables, but undersea welding uses positive pressure enclosures if they need to do dry welds underwater; the welder basically lives in the chamber until the work is done.

            with state resources, it'd be trivial to put one of those around an undersea backbone, and they'd be able to work at a leisurely pace so they could take as long as they needed to splice each individual fiber until the whole thing was done, rather than trying to rush and do everything as quick as possible.

            i dont know if it'd be possible to do it without arousing suspicion, but the point is that they could have as much time as they needed to do it stealthily.

          • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Hairyfeet on Saturday September 20 2014, @08:32AM

            by Hairyfeet (75) <bassbeast1968NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 20 2014, @08:32AM (#95790) Journal

            Uhhh....as someone below me pointed out we have had TWO, count 'em two, major undersea cable outages that lasted for a week or more...gee that is just a shame, and you say they were BOTH connecting the middle east to the rest of the world? Bad luck that.

            If we have learned anything from Snowden its this...the 3 letter agencies DO NOT "sneak" anymore, instead they have a perfectly plausible explanation of what is going on and an army of ass kissing reporters more than happy to repeat every word they say about what "really" happened. Want to see examples of it happening right under your nose? Just look up how many reporters parroted the "yellowcake" story with no more evidence than "yep, they really did that, cause we say they did!" or how many jumped on board with Cheney's "them dirty Iraqis helped with 9/11" line of bullshit that to this very day nearly 25% of Americans believe, or for something more recent (which to me can be used as a yardstick to see which members of the press are owned, just see which ones jumped on this almost instantly) just look at how the ambassador from Ecuador said "We'll be happy to hand Assange over for a rape trial, we simply want to make sure this isn't an excuse for a "rendition ride" so all we ask is that you give and sign a simple one page statement saying that you won't hand Assange over to the Americans if we hand him over to you" was almost instantly BURIED only to be replaced with the "Julian Assaange cost lives/ He didn't use a condom so he is a rapist!" talking points which magically was all any of the talking heads could talk about all across the west, almost to the minute they were all on the SAME PAGE!

            You see THAT is what makes the 3 letter agencies so damned scary, if they were all cloak and dagger all it would take is one blabbermouth to blow them away, instead like Iraq and Gulf Of Tonkin before it they give you a perfectly valid excuse of why its happening and whose fault it is, which of course is never them. Hell look at Iran Contra where they were letting the rebels use US airbases to fly dope in by the plane load, they had Nancy and the nice little "war on blacks...err I mean drugs" set up to give you an enemy and talking points and the whole nine yards, its scary just how easy it is to manipulate the masses in the age of CNN.

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        • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @05:08AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @05:08AM (#95766)

          I think the problem is that they installed the splice before the cables were ever laid down! Remember that pre-Snowden whistleblower that said they were copying all the internet traffic by means of a splitter on the backbone? No one believed him, either.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Ethanol-fueled on Friday September 19 2014, @08:27PM

      by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Friday September 19 2014, @08:27PM (#95645) Homepage

      Don't forget about this [wikipedia.org] and this. [wikipedia.org]

      Gee, what a terrible coincidence, especially from the Middle-East's perspective. "Bad weather conditions" or "dropped anchors" caused those, huh?

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19 2014, @11:58PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19 2014, @11:58PM (#95705)

      Funny that you should mention Carter. The sub that (supposedly) performs this work now is the USS Jimmy Carter [wikipedia.org]. She's equipped for station-keeping just above an undersea cable that can be brought a short distance up into a dry room for work. She can launch ROVs to find the cable, too. They've been doing this for years, and it's hardly a secret.

  • (Score: 1) by Arik on Friday September 19 2014, @07:39PM

    by Arik (4543) on Friday September 19 2014, @07:39PM (#95618) Journal
    But I didnt see anything from Snowden or Greenwald explicitly saying that they cut the cables on the sea floor and spliced into them. Only that they tapped the cable. That could, as the reg article correctly points out, be done more easily on dry land at either end of the cable rather than in some submarine action, but, um, so what? Either way it's tapped.
    --
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    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday September 19 2014, @08:01PM

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday September 19 2014, @08:01PM (#95629) Journal

      He did a press blitz in New Zealand in which he talked about tapping underwater. Slip of the tongue?

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    • (Score: 5, Informative) by frojack on Friday September 19 2014, @08:06PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Friday September 19 2014, @08:06PM (#95631) Journal

      First, why do you insist of foisting your font on us?

      Cable landings are the most likely location for tampering, and since most cables end up terminating in the US / UK at some point that is the logical point. See http://www.cablemap.info/ [cablemap.info]

      Second, most of the cable laying ships are owned by large companies that have at least some tie to the US, and can be coerced into allowing a certain person aboard during a certain phase of operations. There are repeaters and splice boxes every so often along the cable every 45km.
      Some of these repeaters may have been compromised before the cable was laid.

      There is enough excess cable laying on on the sea floor to allow snagging the cable robotically, and hoisting it to the surface for repairs without disrupting it. These people don't work as sea bottom depth. They hoist and fix. If you had your pre-compromised repeater in place that would be the where you could tap in before the cable even became live, because the ocean is a big place and a cable repair ship working several hundred KM behind the laying ships would not arouse suspicion.

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      • (Score: 2) by ls671 on Friday September 19 2014, @08:15PM

        by ls671 (891) on Friday September 19 2014, @08:15PM (#95637) Homepage

        "First, why do you insist of foisting your font on us?"

        Maybe he is using ECMAScript...

        --
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      • (Score: 2, Funny) by Arik on Friday September 19 2014, @09:51PM

        by Arik (4543) on Friday September 19 2014, @09:51PM (#95680) Journal
        I am not (and cannot) change your font settings. Browser options ;)

        "Cable landings are the most likely location for tampering, and since most cables end up terminating in the US / UK at some point that is the logical point. See http://www.cablemap.info/"

        Exactly.

        "Second, most of the cable laying ships are owned by large companies that have at least some tie to the US, and can be coerced into allowing a certain person aboard during a certain phase of operations. There are repeaters and splice boxes every so often along the cable every 45km.
        Some of these repeaters may have been compromised before the cable was laid.

        There is enough excess cable laying on on the sea floor to allow snagging the cable robotically, and hoisting it to the surface for repairs without disrupting it. These people don't work as sea bottom depth. They hoist and fix. If you had your pre-compromised repeater in place that would be the where you could tap in before the cable even became live, because the ocean is a big place and a cable repair ship working several hundred KM behind the laying ships would not arouse suspicion."

        Sure, that's a possibility too, although I would consider it less likely just because it would be harder to do and the result would be exactly the same.

        If you want to read everything that passes through the cable, you can do it at either endpoint or the middle. Not sure which endpoint would have been the easiest given as it seems servile governments on both ends, but there's no particularly reason that I am aware of to suspect that the more difficult route of intercepting in the middle of the ocean was even considered, let alone done.

        --
        If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
        • (Score: 1) by arashi no garou on Friday September 19 2014, @10:49PM

          by arashi no garou (2796) on Friday September 19 2014, @10:49PM (#95692)

          But you can use the code tag and be smug and superior about it!

          Just ribbing btw, it doesn't look bad on my screen. If anything it's more readable since I spend a lot of time in an editor.

          • (Score: 1) by Arik on Saturday September 20 2014, @01:54AM

            by Arik (4543) on Saturday September 20 2014, @01:54AM (#95727) Journal
            It looks exactly the same on my screen, since I long ago reached my limit with the results of allowing every random 'web designer' in the world the ability to specify absurd unreadable combinations of colors and fonts, and changed my settings to prevent that from happening. I changed the posting default to code simply because it is least likely to screw up the formatting of my pure text posts that way. Sometimes I switch to html, when I feel like actually marking up a post, but it's rare that I really want to do anything I cannot more *easily*, *quickly*, and *naturally* do in flat text.

            I only realized that as an unintended side effect this resulted in a different font showing up on some browsers after someone started flaming me for it. Of course I have several browsers in default state available for testing but why would I do that? I typically dont touch them unless I am on the clock, dealing with that level of brokenness might be my vocation but it will never be my avocation.

            This is why I say in all seriousness the font is not something I am controlling or changing. Are you seeing it in Courier? That's a statistically likely guess but by no means a certainty, and not what appears on my screen.
            --
            If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
            • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @03:04AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @03:04AM (#95747)

              Whatever it is, it is monospace which is a pita to read.
              Monospace is great for structured text like code, but suckass for freeform text like regular sentences.

            • (Score: 2) by Popeidol on Saturday September 20 2014, @05:34AM

              by Popeidol (35) Subscriber Badge on Saturday September 20 2014, @05:34AM (#95771) Journal

              When you write a reply, there is a drop-down menu that lets you select the the type of formatting you'd like: Plain old text, HTML Formatted, Extrans, and Code.

              You probably have 'code' set to default. You can change that on the preferences page [soylentnews.org].

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @11:21AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @11:21AM (#95811)

                Obviously you cannot be bothered to read before replying.

            • (Score: 2) by Hairyfeet on Saturday September 20 2014, @10:27PM

              by Hairyfeet (75) <bassbeast1968NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 20 2014, @10:27PM (#96018) Journal

              Well is there any way you could perhaps make the text bigger? Because on my 16x9 widescreen your postings look smaller than the warning labels on a medicine bottle and I really don't have the time nor inclination to hack multiple browsers at 2 locations simply to get your posts to render in a readable way so for now I simply have to skip them as they are simply too small to read comfortably.

              --
              ACs are never seen so don't bother. Always ready to show SJWs for the racists they are.
              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 21 2014, @01:29AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 21 2014, @01:29AM (#96096)
                I truly do not have any control over what fonts, sizes, etc. your browser chooses to display.

                If you have multiple browsers misconfigured to display unreadable text there is no other solution than to configure them.
            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22 2014, @02:49PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22 2014, @02:49PM (#96783)

              You may not be choosing the font, but you are effectively forcing a monospace font on readers of your comments. I could change the font to a variable-width font, but that would fuck up the display of text where it is used appropriately.

              If there is a way of making my browser just display your comments with a variable-width font, but still use monospace elsewhere (including other comments on SN where it is used appropriately) please let me know.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by sjames on Friday September 19 2014, @08:31PM

      by sjames (2882) on Friday September 19 2014, @08:31PM (#95647) Journal

      Mod parent up!

      Snowden made no claims whatsoever about some super amazing undersea caper.

      TFA is just hacking at a strawman.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19 2014, @08:50PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19 2014, @08:50PM (#95655)

        Greenwald is a strawman? I guess that explains a lot. Maybe he should go see the Wizard and get himself a brain.

      • (Score: 2) by DECbot on Friday September 19 2014, @09:11PM

        by DECbot (832) on Friday September 19 2014, @09:11PM (#95663) Journal

        If the strawmen are not regularly beat and hacked, they would band together into an unstoppable army hell bent to shove humanity down a slippery slope of tyranny and depravity. They know no limits and fear only a lit match, the strawmen must not be allowed to unite. A Grand Strawman Army would naturally ally with the Trolls and B'tards, overrun the lurkers to attack what we hold dear. This must be allowed. This is for the sake of our children, the environment, and economy!

        --
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      • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19 2014, @09:32PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 19 2014, @09:32PM (#95673)

        Snowden made no claims whatsoever about some super amazing undersea caper.

        That's Greenwald's job. He needs to milk this shit for all he can to try to keep himself relevant. It is like Assange. You don't simply release the info you have; that would quickly lead to people digesting it all and forgetting all about you. You need to drip, drip, drip it out slowly, spread over time, accompanied with unwarranted speculation, then you can constantly keep yourself in the news. Greenwald is a modern-day carny barker with about just as much credibility ("Come see the amazing lizard man! Come see the bearded woman! Come see the NSA undersea taps that probably exist!").

        • (Score: 2) by sjames on Friday September 19 2014, @10:12PM

          by sjames (2882) on Friday September 19 2014, @10:12PM (#95686) Journal

          Except I find no evidence of Greenwald making such a claim either.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by bob_super on Friday September 19 2014, @08:01PM

    by bob_super (1357) on Friday September 19 2014, @08:01PM (#95628)

    So your cable is armored, deep, under power (still waiting to hear how you repair the insulation and still extract your splice), and far from a place where you could route the tapped data for analysis?
    On top of that, power readings give you the real-time status of the link, allowing your target to notice a tap insertion? And they don't respond to Secret US Govt orders?

    Easy!
    1) Prepare land tapping equipment.
    2) Oops! Anchor! the cable monitoring is down!
    3) Splice at easily accessible land location faster than they can do their repair splice underwater.
    4) Route to nearby house for processing.

    Just because the interruption is underwater doesn't mean that the tap will be. It's more likely a misdirection. Think of the technical difficulty of having your splice poking out of an undersea cable...

    Alternative way
    1) Hack into ALU/Cisco box at the end of the cable, create hidden route to other equipment that $shell_company is legitimately running in the same CO.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by Theophrastus on Friday September 19 2014, @08:16PM

      by Theophrastus (4044) on Friday September 19 2014, @08:16PM (#95638)

      please consider modding-up one-up. that's a very sensible approach.

      yet i have a nerdy wonder about a less sensible approach (reminding me of an *old* Howard Hughes submarine recovery scheme). design a tethered robot submarine/RMV which has a clam-shell maw to grip the cable in a pressurizable cuff. RMV also has a standard docking ring. so:
      (1) glomp.
      (2) dock with submarine
      (3) cozy dry access to cable
      (4) signal your land operative to create a diversion (blow-up a transformer on a sub-station which powers the cable)
      (5) quickly apply optical taps
      (6) waterproof
      (7) release
      (8) it's miller-time

      • (Score: 2) by mhajicek on Friday September 19 2014, @10:09PM

        by mhajicek (51) on Friday September 19 2014, @10:09PM (#95683)

        You forgot:

        (9) Profit!

  • (Score: 4, Funny) by SlimmPickens on Friday September 19 2014, @08:10PM

    by SlimmPickens (1056) on Friday September 19 2014, @08:10PM (#95634)

    I read somewhere, don't remember if was Greenwald's book or not that they get most of them by doing it before it's live.

    It also says in Greenwald's book they got themselves in charge of some of the landing sites (STORMBREW IIRC).

    Also, it might be hard to tap a live cable but not impossible. They fix them when ship anchors wreck them FFS. They've really just got to deal with power somehow and then do what they always do. Maybe they "organise" a ship anchor in order to deal with the power.

    No imagination. It should be called de-register.

  • (Score: 1, Troll) by JNCF on Friday September 19 2014, @08:49PM

    by JNCF (4317) on Friday September 19 2014, @08:49PM (#95653) Journal

    You idiots think the NSA is eavesdropping on us all, don't you? Ha! Shows what you know. The NSA would have to have SUPER HEARING to listen in on all of our conversations! You think they track all of our movements constantly? What do they have, X-RAY VISION? You think the government just has people FLYING AROUND THE SKY watching us all? Laughable! The government doesn't have SUPER POWERS. It seems to The Register almost certain that neither Glenn Greenwald nor Edward Snowden have ever flown around the greater Metropolis area using their Kryptonian powers to spy on a multitude of law abiding citizens and neerdowells alike. What, do you morons think that your dystopian government with an absurd black budget possesses technology and operating procedures that aren't public knowledge? Ha! Clearly the US government is incapable of tapping into undersea cables...

    • (Score: 2) by SlimmPickens on Saturday September 20 2014, @12:24AM

      by SlimmPickens (1056) on Saturday September 20 2014, @12:24AM (#95709)

      Troll huh?

      lol

      • (Score: 2) by dcollins on Saturday September 20 2014, @12:53AM

        by dcollins (1168) on Saturday September 20 2014, @12:53AM (#95712) Homepage

        SUPER TROLL!!!

      • (Score: 2) by jcross on Saturday September 20 2014, @01:14AM

        by jcross (4009) on Saturday September 20 2014, @01:14AM (#95717)

        The moderator must have thought that whooshing sound was just superman flying by.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @06:24AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @06:24AM (#95775)

        Someone's sarcasm detector is badly broken.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @10:37AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20 2014, @10:37AM (#95807)

    prolly need to be a bit cautious about mass copypasta from sources as it could potentially land SN in hot water for copyright infringement

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22 2014, @01:59AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 22 2014, @01:59AM (#96542)

      unless "plagiarism" suddenly became "copyright infringement", then i think the term is mistaken.

      also, it shouldn't be plagiarism as long as the source is attributed.