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US Cyber Spies Unmasks Identities of Citizens who in Contact with Foreign Intelligence Targets

Alex Joel, a DNI official, said it was likely that the higher number of U.S. persons unmasked last year was inflated by names of victims of malicious cyber activity

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cyber spies, identities
FILE - A man types on a computer keyboard in this illustration, Feb. 28, 2013. VOA

U.S. cyber spies last year unmasked the identities of nearly 17,000 U.S. citizens or residents who were in contact with foreign intelligence targets, a sharp increase from previous years attributed partly to hacking and other malicious cyber activity, according to a U.S. government report released on Tuesday.

The unmasking of American citizens’ identities swept up in U.S. electronic espionage became a sensitive issue after U.S. government spying on communications traffic expanded sharply following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and started sweeping up Americans’ data.

The report by the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said that in 2018 cyber spies at the National Security Agency (NSA) unmasked the identities of 16,721 “U.S. persons,” compared to 9,529 unmaskings in 2017 and 9,217 between September 2015 and August 2016.

cyber spies, identities
U.S. person used by spy agencies includes actual individuals, email addresses and internet protocol (IP) addresses. Pixabay

According to U.S. intelligence rules, when the NSA intercepts messages in which one or more participants are U.S. citizens or residents, the agency is supposed to black out American names. But the names can be unmasked upon request of intelligence officers and higher-ranking government officials, including presidential appointees.

Alex Joel, a DNI official, said it was likely that the higher number of U.S. persons unmasked last year was inflated by names of victims of malicious cyber activity. Another official said the definition of U.S. person used by spy agencies includes actual individuals, email addresses and internet protocol (IP) addresses.

The expanded collection of data that affected Americans was exposed by whistleblowers like former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, prompting politicians and the public to demand greater accountability.

cyber spies, identities
The report says that the number of “non-US persons” targeted by the U.S. for foreign intelligence surveillance rose to 164,770 in calendar year 2018 compared to 129,080 the year before. Pixabay

Annual reports on the extent of NSA and other government electronic surveillance were one notable reform. NSA’s operations historically were so secretive that agency employees joked its initials stood for “No Such Agency.”

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Not long after President Donald Trump took office, Devin Nunes, the Republican who then chaired the House Intelligence Committee, touched off a political flap by claiming intercepted messages involving members of Trump’s transition team had been unmasked at the direction of top Obama administration officials.

The report says that the number of “non-US persons” targeted by the U.S. for foreign intelligence surveillance rose to 164,770 in calendar year 2018 compared to 129,080 the year before. The report adds that not a single FBI investigation was opened on U.S. persons based on NSA surveillance in either 2017 or 2018. (VOA)

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Now The Hackers May Want To Crack Down What You Stream on Netflix

While Netflix contended that carrying out such an attack would not be easy as it requires access to network traffic for analysis, the IIT Madras researchers pointed out that tricking users into connecting to rogue routers or access points is quite possible for hackers.

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Netflix
"I work on analysis of encrypted network traffic, and when we stumbled upon this Netflix movie Bandersnatch it was something very new," Gargi Mitra, a PhD student at IIT Madras was quoted as saying by the WIRED. Pixabay

Despite Netflix’s move to encrypt all its video streams in order to better protect user privacy, hackers may still get to know what interactive content you watch on the popular streaming service, new research from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras suggests.

The researchers said that they can analyse Netflix’s encrypted interactive video traffic to find clues about the viewing habits of users, and which choices they have made in their movie journeys, the WIRED reported on Sunday.

Netflix
Analysing the choices that 100 viewers made, the researchers were able to determine the decisions correctly 96 per cent of the time, the report said Pixabay

The interactive content on Netflix allows users to make choices for the characters and shape the story. Each choice leads to a different adventure, so users can watch again and again, and see a new story each time. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch and You vs. Wild are some of the interactive titles that Netflix has.

“I work on analysis of encrypted network traffic, and when we stumbled upon this Netflix movie Bandersnatch it was something very new,” Gargi Mitra, a PhD student at IIT Madras was quoted as saying by the WIRED.

hacking
The researchers said that they can analyse Netflix’s encrypted interactive video traffic to find clues about the viewing habits of users, and which choices they have made in their movie journeys, the WIRED reported on Sunday. Pixabay

“But when I was looking at the choice-making interactions it turned out that they are similar to other kinds of interactions in web applications and web sites I study. So I tried out some of my techniques and we were able to determine which options the viewer chooses,” Mitra added.

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While Netflix contended that carrying out such an attack would not be easy as it requires access to network traffic for analysis, the IIT Madras researchers pointed out that tricking users into connecting to rogue routers or access points is quite possible for hackers.

Analysing the choices that 100 viewers made, the researchers were able to determine the decisions correctly 96 per cent of the time, the report said. (IANS)