WikiLeaks’ CIA Hacking Revelations

(An earlier draft of this column on Digital Privacy for Ordinary People appeared in the Leveller.)

Surveillance is in the news again with WikiLeaks’ release of an archive detailing CIA hacking methods. What does this mean for you, the ordinary reader interested in having a private on-line life?

First, let’s back up a little. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations showed the ubiquity of mass on-line surveillance.
But they also showed that certain programs and services were giving security agencies difficulty. These programs implemented encryption in various contexts – for browsing, instant messaging, calling, or for drives and whole operating systems. In 2013 the NSA internally characterized these privacy tools as a “major threat” to their mission. It also described the effect of chaining them together as “catastrophic” – leading to a “near-total loss/lack of insight to target[’s] communications [and] presence”.

The development and popularization of these tools has continued, and this column was created to introduce the best of them to readers.

Nothing in this more recent CIA release shows that these encrypted tools have been compromised, despite an initial tweet from WikiLeaks that spoke of “bypassing” popular encrypted apps like Signal and WhatsApp. While it was initially picked up by many news organizations, a growing consensus has characterized this tweet as ‘misleading’ and ‘sensationalizing,’ to borrow words from Zeynep Tufekci, a New York Times contributor and ‘technosociologist’ professor at the University of North Carolina.

So I still recommend encrypted tools like the Tor browser, Signal messaging/voice/video app, ProtonMail webmail, and TAILS operating system. Future columns will cover these tools in detail. In Tufekci’s words, “if anything, the C.I.A. documents in the cache confirm the strength of encryption technologies.”

That said, what the WikiLeaks cache does show is a significant shift in surveillance culture. Having realized that they can no longer reliably intercept communications when they are encrypted, the CIA has shifted to specifically targeting devices with malware. This includes smartphones, computers, smart TVs, and even automobile control centers. These practices by the CIA are probably indicative of what security agencies all over the world are doing, according to ProtonMail founder Andy Yen, a secure e-mail provider. Continue reading

Bonita Lawrence’s Fractured Homeland

Title Page to Fractured Homeland

Bonita Lawrence. Fractured Homeland: Federal Recognition and Algonquin Identity in Ontario.
Publisher: UBC Press, 2012.
344 pages

Lawrence is a Mi’kmaq academic who did a bunch of interviews and fieldwork with Algonquins in Ontario. There are excellent sections on Algonquin history in general, which narrow to focus on contemporary Ontario communities as time and the book goes on.

This includes compelling and heart-rending accounts of how most Algonquins in Ontario were over-run by settler culture as the government turned down their requests for reserve lands dozens and dozens of time. This means that today there is only one federally-recognized Algonquin reserve in Ontario, and that the majority of Algonquins in Ontario don’t have ‘Indian status.’

Lawrence traces the way the Ontario Algonquin land claim has belatedly recognized non-status Algonquins, essentially arguing that the process has created rather than healed divisions. Generally speaking, the book is highly critical of the current Land Claim.

Since it dates from 2013, it naturally doesn’t cover significant recent developments. This includes last year’s vote on the Agreement-in-Principle with mixed results, the signing of the Agreement, Kitigan Zibi’s competing claim to the Ottawa region and court challenge to the Ontario claim, and the three Western Quebec Algonquin communities that have asserted their rights over territory that includes parts of Ontario.

The book is still a treasure trove of information on the history of Algonquins in Ontario and the context for the current land claim. Highly recommended.

Publisher’s page for Fractured Homeland
Ottawa Public Library – Catalogue Entry
Perth Union Library – Catalogue Entry
Kingston-Frontenac Public Library – Catalogue Entry