Sunday, September 30, 2012

Smart Grid Technology Reveals Your Activities in Your Home: Privacy Panel Raises CyberSecurity Concerns

By Sarah Cortes-Ever since Chinese computer hackers reportedly brought down the entire power grid of northeastern New York State, utilities and the US government have collaborated to strengthen the US energy infrastructure to prevent similar occurrences. Smart Grid technology, including computerized Smart Meters, have been rolled out around the US, and there are plans to install more, including in Cambridge and the entire state of Massachusetts.

New Smart Grid technology can make your energy consumption data much more interesting, creating benefits- and problems.  Collected at intervals as low as every hour or 15 minutes, increased granularity of your energy consumption paints a distinct picture of your activities in your home. And, the activities of others in your home while you are away. Each person may create a unique "digital energy usage signature" that can be used to identify who is in your home doing what, when. This is helpful when you want to understand how to cut down your energy usage. It also interests businesses that want to sell you things, other individuals who want to track your activities, and law enforcement and related government agencies, when they wants to track your whereabouts and activities. 

EnergySec, a consortium of industry leaders and concerned citizens, invited a panel of lawyers, information security researchers and state public utility employees to Portland, Oregon last week to educate attendees of the EnergySec Summit about privacy issues with Smart Grid Energy Consumption Technology. The Smart Grid is the new energy infrastructure the US has been seeking to implement. Panelists included Lee Tien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF, like the ACLU, is active in defending civil liberties. EFF's focus is freedom relating to digital, internet and computer-related issues. EFF has been active in keeping an eye on how energy consumption data collection and storage may create new threats to civil liberties, privacy and security.

Other panelists included Gal Shpantzer, and information security researcher from EnergySec, moderator, Chris Shepherd, ICCT, Chris Villarreal, California Public Utilities Commission, and myself, from Cambridge, representing the National Institue of Standards and Technology (NIST) Smart Grid CyberSecurity Working Group (CSWG) that is currently rewriting a NIST Smart Grid CyberSecurity and Privacy guide, including legal and regulatory issues.

The panel discussed the very recent rulings by the Ninth Circuit Court, US v. Golden Valley Electric Association, and the Maine Supreme Court, in Friedman v. Maine Public Utilities Commission, regarding privacy and security issues relating to government subpoenas of consumer energy usage data for law enforcement, as well as concerns about health and general privacy issues of Smart Grid technology.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Whistleblower Bradley Manning Supporters Protest in Cambridge, Boston, Demand Obama Free Him

by @SarahCortes-As over 30 press outlets filed an amicus brief to protest secrecy surrounding PVC Bradley Manning's trial, protestors in Cambridge, Boston and 33 Obama campaign headquarters around the US joined yesterday in the demand to free Manning.

Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents and media, including the video, to Wikileaks. Many view Wikileaks as a news outlet similar to the New York Times, and Manning as a whistleblower similar to Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers. Documents and media allegedly leaked by Manning to Wikileaks portray misconduct by the US military, such as that in the Collateral Murder video. Wikileaks director Julian Assange is currently in refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, under threat of arrest and deportation to Sweden. Four US congressional representatives have called for Assange's death. The US seeks his extradition for publishing the classified material. Manning faces 22 charges, including aiding the enemy, unauthorized disclosure of national security information and violating orders. The maximum punishment for these crimes includes life imprisonment. The government has not charged any of those persons revealed in the material to have committed atrocities or other crimes.

The Collateral Murder video, shot from the gunsight of a US Army helicopter in Iraq in 2007, shows the killing of unarmed civilians, children and two Reuters photographers by a soldier identified only as "Crazyhorse 1/8." The US Army refused to release it under a 2007 FOIA request by Reuters, claiming its release would jeopardize national security. No one is known to have been harmed since the release of the material attributed to Manning.

Protestors at the Primary Day rally likened Bradley Manning's alleged crimes to the disclosures by Daniel Ellsberg in the Pentagon Papers, which revealed widespread atrocities and corruption in the US military in southeast asia in the 1960s and 1970s. Susan McLucas stated, "Manning has been held in jail for over two years without a trial. We're here on the eve of Obama's nomination to demand that he free Manning, who [allegedly] released information vital to our interests, which should never have been secret."

Many of the protestors had previously supported Occupy Boston. Jesse Perrier, of Veterans for Peace added, "to a lot of people [Manning] is a hero, for letting people know a lot of falsehoods about the Iraq war." Leslie Tetrault added, "I learned some things today about the torture of Bradley Manning that I couldn't believe. We have to all stand together. Because that could be me in there [in the US military prison in Ft. Meade}, too." Susan Rose of Cambridge, who participated in the protest, and Pat Scanlon, who helped organize itagreed. Dave Lewit of, a member of the Alliance for Democracy, added that Manning's Treatment was "an indictment of a corrupt justice system- civilian as well as military."

Politico reporter @JoshGerstein reported, "The amicus brief filed with the military's highest court, the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces, supports a request from the Center for Constitutional Rights to allow public access to motions, briefs, written rulings and the docket in Manning's court-martial."

The Boston and Cambridge protets were supported and publicized by a wide variety of organizations, including and, as well as

According to, emails turned over to Manning's legal defense team after months of wrangling over discovery, revealed that Lieutenant General George Flynn, who was serving as the Commanding General of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at the time, ordered Manning’s solitary confinement.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Computer Hackers Share Tips at DefCon, Sound Alarms about Government Surveillance

by @SarahCortes-Former Cantabridgian Chris Soghoian spoke today at Defcon, possibly the world's largest conference for computer hackers. Soghoian highlighed numerous ways cellphone and location data is easily accessed by law enforcement with little or no judicial or other oversight. Laws such as the Communications and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 ("CALEA") have been expanded beyond their original scope to assist law enforcement investigations in the hope of keeping us safer. The problem, Soghoian states, is that this expanded ease of government surveillance now extends to millions of individuals as well, dismantling constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

Also on the panel with Soghoian were Catherine Crump and Ben Wizner from the ACLU and computer technologist Ashkan Soltani.

Soghoian referenced a recent judicial opinion from a Texas court finding law enforcement had exceeded their authority in the use of subpoenas for cellphone data, which can include not only the target of an investigation, but everyone who has had cellphone contact with a target. "We're not talking about a judge from San Francisco. When a Texas judge says government surveillance had gone too far, you need pay attention, Soghoian stated."

Soghoian has published and spoken extensively on government surveillance of its citizens, and the collaboration of the largest telecommunications and other technology corporations with law enforcement.

Soghoian is a PhD candidate at Indiana University, where he submitted his doctoral dissertation July 15. He was a fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Cambridge from 2008-2009. "They gave me the impossible task of trying to measure the scale of government surveillance," Sogoian states in his dissertation. "Thankfully, they were not upset when I failed."

He first gained notoriety in 2006 when the FBI raided his home during the night and seized his computer. He had created a website featuring a fake airline boarding pass which anyone could print out, which defaulted to printing the name "Osama bin Laden." Soghoian had created the website to call attention to TSA security weaknesses to create public awareness about what he saw as the TSA's habit of ignoring obvious threats and vulnerabilities in transportation infrastructure. Instead, he has asserted, TSA focused unduly and ineffectively on a set of threats and a series of purchases that have left real threats unidentified and unmitigated.

Soghoian revealed at DefCon that he is currently "fighting his own lawsuit" against the government.

13,000 information Security professionals and hackers are expected to attend DefCon this year in Las Vegas, Nevada between July 26-29.

Originally published at

Friday, August 17, 2012

Anonymous Protesters Continue Second Day and Night of Occupation in front of Cambridge, MA British Consulate

by @SarahCortes-Protestors spent a second day and night outside the British Consulate in Cambridge MA in response to the UK's continued threats against the sovereignty of Ecuador's London Embassy and Julian Assange. Identifying themselves with the philosophy of the loose collective of computer hackers known as "Anonymous," individuals in "V for Vendetta" masks occupied the space in front of the Consulate, located at One Broadway in Kendall Square.

Assange has sought refuge from UK extradition in Ecuador's London embassy since June 16. In a new development, Ecuador announced yesterday it has extended Assange permanant asylum. In response, the UK has stated it will arrest Assange the minute he steps outside the embassy.

Assange founded Wikileaks, the organization that published hundreds of thousands of pages of US diplomatic and military cables allegedly leaked by US Pvt. Bradley Manning. Among other artifacts, Wikileaks published 39 minutes of classified US Army helicopter cockpit gunsight footage, which can be seen in the video "Collateral Murder," at The video footage includes the shooting and sometimes slow deaths of unarmed civilians, children and Reuters journalists during an American airstrike in Baghdad on July 12, 2007. In the video, US soldiers "Crazyhorse 1/8" and "Crazyhorse 1/9" direct fire from a US Army helicopter at two unarmed Reuters journalists, two small children, their father (while he is attempting to aid the wounded), other individuals attempting to aid the wounded, and other unarmed civilians. "Crazyhorse 1/9" then directs US soldiers to take the wounded children to a local clinic lacking basic medical supplies, refusing to allow their transport to the well-supplied US Army hospital nearby. The wounded children, shot in the face, were the only survivors of the airstrike.

Image: Sarah Cortes
Manning has been detained without trial in conditions called by his lawyer "harsh and flagrantly unlawful," since his arrest in 2010. The Guardian reported that, according to "a 14-month investigation by Mendez [Juan Mendez, the UN's special rapporteur on torture] concluded that Manning had been subjected to cruel and inhuman conditions." David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning support network, was unable to join the protests..

According to Amnesty International, Ecuador is on its watch list due to "curbs on freedom of expression [which] included the use of criminal defamation charges against journalists critical of the government or local officials. In July, a judge ordered three directors and a former columnist of the newspaper El Universo to pay President Correa US$40 million in damages and sentenced them to three years’ imprisonment for criminal defamation. President Correa brought a criminal complaint against the four men in March, a month after an article was published referring to him as a “dictator” and suggesting that he might face criminal prosecution over the September 2010 disturbances when the armed forces rescued him from a hospital in Quito. He had sought refuge there from police officers protesting against proposed cuts in their pay and benefits. An appeal against the sentence imposed on the directors and columnist was pending in the National Court of Justice at the end of the year."

When Reuters requested an explanation of the 20007 murders of its photographers, and an investigation, US military authorities insisted the circumstances were legal, refused to release information regarding the shootings, and denied the existence of the cockpit gunsight footage. It was only with the 2010 release by Wikileaks that the evidence and details surrounding this and other incidents came to light.

Senator Diane Feinstein has called on US Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act (18 USC 793e), which carries the death penalty as a potential punishment. The three other members of the US Congress have called for Assange's execution or death. Ecuador and Assange contend that the extradition which the UK is demanding will lead to his death in the US.

Cambridge protestors followed similar protests at British consulates and embassies around the world. "Unprecedented UK threats to violate the sovereign designation of Ecuador's London embassy threatens the safety of British subjects around the world, and all of us. It is intended to retaliate against Assange for publishing information of vital importance to all of us, concealed from the public," stated one of the protestors at the corner of Third and Main Streets. When asked how long Anonymous intended to continue its occupation at One Broadway in Cambridge, protestors replied only with the smile on their "V for Vendetta" masks. "V for Vendetta" is a trademark of multinational Viacom, which derives a fee from the sale of every mask based on its copyright.

Originally published at

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Anonymous Protestors at Cambridge, MA British Consulate Last Night over UK Ecuadorean Embassy Threat to Forcibly Remove Assange

by Sarah Cortes-Protestors wearing the "V for Vendetta" Guy Fawkes masks preferred by the loose hacker collective "Anonymous" appeared at the British Consulate in Cambridge last night, only hours after news outlets revealed that UK police have started amassing outside Ecuador's embassy in London. An announcement is expected this morning by Ecuadorean authorities over asylum for WIkileaks founder Julian Assange, who is living in the embassy. British authorities have vowed to arrest Assange the minute he steps outside embassy premises, legally considered Ecuadorian soil. The UK threat to a sovereign embassy has resonated around the world overnight, causing fears of retaliation to UK subjects, embassies, and consulates worldwide. Cambridge, home to many prominent supporters of internet freedom, was among the first to organize and react.

Image: Sarah Cortes
The protestors gathered around 11pm EST outside the British Consulate located at One Broadway in Kendall Square, Cambridge, on the 7th floor. They expressed their outrage over reports last night from BBC News that a letter sent yesterday from the UK government to Ecuadorean officials threatened that UK police would storm the embassy if Ecuador did not hand over Assange. To back up the threat, at around 8pm EST, according to reports from BBC news, UK police surrounded Ecuador's embassy in London, and further occupied its public areas. In Cambridge, protestors watched the scene outside the British embassy on a livestream set up by London protestors supporting Assange, Wikileaks, freedom of speech, internet freedom, and Ecuadorean sovereignty.UK police spokesman indicated an Assange arrest might be expected around 7am GMT, which would be 2am EST, when US news outlets would be less active.

Assange sought protection from British extradition to Sweden in the embassy June 16, and has been holed up there ever since. In early June, a British court ruled against Assange's last extradition appeal. It is widely believed Sweden would turn Assange over to US authorities for US extradition, where he is sought for charges relating to the massive 2010 Wikileaks document leak. Among other documents, Wikileaks released the video "Collateral Murder," which revealed US atrocities against unarmed civilians, children and journalists in Baghdad which the US military has sought to cover up since 2007, denying it had any such records. The Wikileaks release demonstrated the US military had lied and covered up its atrocities. Since that time, US law enforcement has sought to extradite Assange, expressing its concern over the collateral damage the document release itself may have caused others.

Originally published at