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posted by janrinok on Friday January 16 2015, @11:47PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the hey-they're-talking-to-me-too! dept.

It’s common knowledge the NSA collects plenty of data on suspected terrorists as well as ordinary citizens but the agency also has algorithms in place to filter out information that doesn’t need to be collected or stored for further analysis, such as spam emails. Now Alice Truong reports that during operations in Afghanistan after 9/11, the US was able to analyze laptops formerly owned by Taliban members and according to NSA officer Michael Wertheimer discovered an email written in English found on the computers contained a purposely spammy subject line: “CONSOLIDATE YOUR DEBT.” According to Wertheimer, the email was sent to and from nondescript addresses that were later confirmed to belong to combatants. "It is surely the case that the sender and receiver attempted to avoid allied collection of this operational message by triggering presumed “spam” filters (PDF)." From a surveillance perspective, Wertheimer writes that this highlights the importance of filtering algorithms. Implementing them makes parsing huge amounts of data easier, but it also presents opportunities for someone with a secret to figure out what type of information is being tossed out and exploit the loophole.

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  • (Score: 1) by Buck Feta on Friday January 16 2015, @11:56PM

    by Buck Feta (958) on Friday January 16 2015, @11:56PM (#135557) Journal

    And vice versa

    --
    - fractious political commentary goes here -
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16 2015, @11:58PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 16 2015, @11:58PM (#135558)

    Derk. Derka derka. Derkallah. Mohammed jihad. Acka sherpa sherpa. Bahkala.

    • (Score: 2) by Jeremiah Cornelius on Saturday January 17 2015, @01:14AM

      by Jeremiah Cornelius (2785) on Saturday January 17 2015, @01:14AM (#135570) Journal

      "Terrorism" or the NSA?

      HINT: Only the NSA knows your name, where you live, who retweeted you last, what route your last cab ride took, if you used a credit or debit card for the cab...

      --
      You're betting on the pantomime horse...
      • (Score: 2) by Hartree on Saturday January 17 2015, @01:39AM

        by Hartree (195) on Saturday January 17 2015, @01:39AM (#135574)

        "WHAT IS BIGEST THREAT TO YOUR LIFE AND LIBERTY?"

        Old age.

        It's a 100% effective if everything else fails.

        • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Saturday January 17 2015, @09:13AM

          by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday January 17 2015, @09:13AM (#135620) Journal

          No, old age is not 100% effective in taking your liberty. But yes, it is 100% effective in taking your life (although it may take some time).

          --
          The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
          • (Score: 2) by Hartree on Saturday January 17 2015, @10:01PM

            by Hartree (195) on Saturday January 17 2015, @10:01PM (#135732)

            Perhaps not 100%, but ever visited a nursing home?

            • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:34AM

              by maxwell demon (1608) on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:34AM (#135784) Journal

              But you claimed 100% efficiency, and that is wrong.

              And testing your claim in a nursing home gives you a selection bias. Of course, in a nursing home you'd find the unhealthy people, because, well, it's a nursing home. Just like if you'd try to find out the proportion of people using the internet by making an internet survey. Of course you'd find 100% of all people use the internet, because those people not using it could not participate in the survey.

              --
              The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:44AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:44AM (#135786)

                Old age is still the biggest threat to life and liberty.

              • (Score: 2) by Hartree on Sunday January 18 2015, @02:43PM

                by Hartree (195) on Sunday January 18 2015, @02:43PM (#135822)

                I've not seen many corpses exhibiting free will.

                The reason I modified it to perhaps not 100% and gave a nursing home as an example is that I figured you might well be religious and basing your objection on an afterlife that allows freedom of action. Obviously, there's no way I can to 100% disprove that.

                But, save for that, yes, death is the end of liberty.

                And, watching my parents age and temporarily be put in a nursing home, I noted that not only the human institutionalization but the very loss of abilities limited terribly what they could do. If you want to be pedantic, yes, they were still free to do anything, but were unable. It was a difference that hardly made a difference.

                That was 15 years ago. Now, I see the smart ham radio operator who lived across the street and seemed to know how to fix almost anything in the world, when I was a child, suffering from Alzheimer's. He's in an assisted care facility and other wise healthy, but can't even operate radios that a few years ago he could have designed and built. That's hardly "liberty" in the way most would define it.

                But, if you want the point to be that P(loss of liberty) is unequal 1, then of course. 100% is rarely possible to prove, and I was using a more colloquial method of phrasing.

  • (Score: 2) by NoMaster on Saturday January 17 2015, @12:19AM

    by NoMaster (3543) on Saturday January 17 2015, @12:19AM (#135561)

    So this whole "story" hangs on a single anecdote about how a single message recovered had a spammy subject line? No actual evidence, not even the claim that the message contained Taliban-related communications.

    Just a spammy subject line.

    Ockham's razor would suggest that, absent of any other evidence, what they saw was most likely ... uh, I don't know if I should be revealing US national secrets here ... "spam".

    --
    Live free or fuck off and take your naïve Libertarian fantasies with you...
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @12:30AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @12:30AM (#135564)

      No actual evidence, not even the claim that the message contained Taliban-related communications

      That's just how government propaganda rolls... oops did I say propaganda... I meant transparency.

      We learn from the best; US i.n.t.e.l.l.i.g.e.n.c.e.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by frojack on Saturday January 17 2015, @12:49AM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Saturday January 17 2015, @12:49AM (#135568) Journal

      So this whole "story" hangs on a single anecdote

      Wait, don't be so dismissive. This could be better than Spamassassin, we could hunt down all these spammers and send them to gitmo.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Saturday January 17 2015, @06:52AM

        by Snotnose (1623) on Saturday January 17 2015, @06:52AM (#135603)

        But it's all good. They got some major headlines. They got to keep the sheeple in a state of fear. They accomplished their mission.

        "they" of course are the US guv'mint's TLA agencies.

        --
        Theiyr're - Take that grammar police.
      • (Score: 2) by sjames on Saturday January 17 2015, @09:38AM

        by sjames (2882) on Saturday January 17 2015, @09:38AM (#135622) Journal

        If only. However, I believe it's against their secret charter to do anything useful and besides, it might entail actual legwork and they hate that.

        • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Saturday January 17 2015, @10:20AM

          by Phoenix666 (552) on Saturday January 17 2015, @10:20AM (#135629) Journal

          I'd say you hit the nail on the head. The vast, vast majority of people who work for the government do so because they are not spontaneous, entrepreneurial risk-takers and problem solvers. They are extremely risk averse and like the suffocating rules-based culture and perceived job security it gives them. There are exceptions, of course, but they don't last. The initial excitement of "I could really make a difference!" evaporates in the daily reality of being surrounded by armies of Skippy the Wonder Flunky fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent any change, down to the color of the cover of the TPS report.

          The headline of this article exemplifies government's use of fear to safeguard next year's budget allotment and keep the public from raising objections to the obvious, massive waste the security state represents.

          --
          Washington DC delenda est.
          • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @05:04PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @05:04PM (#135684)

            They are extremely risk averse

            Who in their right mind would take risks when failure literally means homelessness and starving to death? If we had proper social safety nets, like a basic income for at least food and shelter, we'd see a lot more "entrepreneurial risk-takers and problem solvers".

            • (Score: 2) by sjames on Sunday January 18 2015, @10:48AM

              by sjames (2882) on Sunday January 18 2015, @10:48AM (#135799) Journal

              Agreed 100%. We would be years more advanced than we are now. We might even have healthy markets.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @03:06AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @03:06AM (#135588)

      Yep. But it is such a seductive story. It's like poor man's steganography. I bet within a week it gets mentioned on the national nightly news.

      It's also great for the anti-NSA angle - they want to collect it all and (David Cameron wants to) outlaw cryptography and it will all be for naught because terrerists can make it look like spam.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @04:15AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 17 2015, @04:15AM (#135593)

        not sure how they could effectively enforce a law that bans steganography. what are they gunna do? inspect every cat pic on the internet for possible hidden messages? what if they find something? they gunna arrest a 16 year old girl on terrorist charges because their super-awesome steganography-detection algorithm throws up a positive on her favebook selfie?

  • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Saturday January 17 2015, @07:41AM

    by maxwell demon (1608) on Saturday January 17 2015, @07:41AM (#135608) Journal

    I remember from years ago a Slashdot story about a web site that encoded your messages as spam. I now even opened, first for a very long time, Slashdot again to find that old story, but unfortunately my search-fu was not sufficient to find it.

    --
    The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:07AM

    by kaszz (4211) on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:07AM (#135780) Journal

    If you encode your message to look like spam, it will also get caught in the spam filters. And thus defeat your communication. So how is this efficient at all?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:42AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18 2015, @08:42AM (#135785)

      If you encode your message to look like spam, it will also get caught in the spam filters. And thus defeat your communication. So how is this efficient at all?

      Whitelists.

      Even better:
      Don't use a spam filter.
      Don't use your address in public where spammers can find it.

      Buy ch43p v!4gr4