Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

11/13/2012
06:43 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
Commentary
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

The Petraeus Affair: Surveillance State Stopper?

Lawmakers, now reminded of their own vulnerability, need to strengthen email privacy protections. Companies need to do more to help customers protect content.

When the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency can't maintain his privacy, nobody else has a chance.

The only way to win the self-surveillance game -- played by everyone who uses a network-connected computer -- is not to play. That's why U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano doesn't use email.

David H. Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA, according to reports, because of an FBI inquiry into confrontational emails sent by his biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell, to Jill Kelly, a friend of Petraeus and a rival in Broadwell's eyes.

[ Do you know how to protect yourself when using free email services? Read Petraeus Fallout: 5 Gmail Security Facts. ]

The FBI's investigation appears to be more the result of Kelly's friendship with an agent than the content of the messages. According to The Daily Beast, the FBI could barely muster a legal justification for opening an investigation. The agency would have to hire a lot more agents if it routinely investigated every email message deemed to be mildly harassing.

Nevertheless, in this course of its investigation, the agency discovered that Petraeus and Broadwell had been communicating covertly, by saving messages as unsent drafts in a single Gmail account, so they could login to the account and read what the other had written.

Petraeus evidently failed to consider the privacy implications of a change Google made to Gmail in 2008. That was when the company began providing Gmail users with the ability to track the IP address used to access accounts as a way to improve online security. As I noted at the time, "The information listed includes the Gmail user's type of access (browser, mobile, POP3), IP address, date and time. Not only will this new feature improve Gmail security, but it's also likely to please law enforcement authorities. In cases where a suspect's Gmail use is an issue, investigators who might otherwise have to request or subpoena log data from Google may only need access to the Gmail account itself."

What's more, now we're learning that the same inquiry -- which is unlikely to result in any criminal charges -- has claimed another victim. On Monday, the Department of Defense said it had been informed that the FBI's investigation had identified issues that affect Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. The Washington Post reports that the FBI found some 20,000 to 30,000 pages of "potentially inappropriate" email messages between Allen and Kelly, the woman who sought the FBI inquiry in the first place.

There are conflicting accounts about whether or not the FBI obtained a warrant for its inquiry.

"This is a surveillance state run amok," writes Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. "It also highlights how any remnants of Internet anonymity have been all but obliterated by the union between the state and technology companies."

The careers of two of the nation's top military men have unraveled because the FBI started pulling threads from an inbox without any real evidence of a crime. Maybe that's just the wakeup call the government needs to recognize the value of privacy.

If that happens, it won't be the first time. In 1987, Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video rental history was revealed by reporter Michael Dolan, who obtained the information from Bork's local Washington, D.C. video store. Dolan justified his actions in part by noting, "[T]he judge indicated during his confirmation hearings that he's not necessarily a rabid fan of the notion of a constitutional guarantee of privacy."

Washington legislators were so shocked that their indiscreet viewing choices might be revealed that they promptly passed the 1988 Video Privacy Protection Act, which would have to wait until the Facebook era to be rendered obsolete by the marketing-surveillance complex's promotion of sharing as a social good.

Now that it's clear government officials stand as naked before online investigators as lowly citizens, maybe we'll see privacy exhumed from its grave, embalmed, and propped up as if it were alive and well again.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
J. Nicholas Hoover
50%
50%
J. Nicholas Hoover,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/16/2012 | 1:13:38 AM
re: The Petraeus Affair: Surveillance State Stopper?
I too question this, and wonder whether or how much of FBI's procedures for launching an investigation (and whether they properly were followed here) will be discussed as part of any Congressional investigation into the matter.
macker490
50%
50%
macker490,
User Rank: Ninja
11/14/2012 | 4:08:47 PM
re: The Petraeus Affair: Surveillance State Stopper?
once could of course use PGP or ENIGMAIL, or just use zip with an pre-agreed symetrical password

but there is still traffic analysis: why is Bob texting to Alice ?

best to keep msg in plain text and innocuous
MyW0r1d
50%
50%
MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/14/2012 | 3:08:41 PM
re: The Petraeus Affair: Surveillance State Stopper?
That FBI agents are conducting or initiating investigations on little more than a complaint based on a personal relationship should be disconcerting to anyone. That the investigation has revealed little which can be placed in the "illegal" realm beyond movements of senior military officials or harassment only further questions the basis of a continued investigation. The issue seems to have been completely blown out of proportion and I believe that as much as the generals actions, the actions of the FBI or agents involved need to be analyzed.
Data Leak Week: Billions of Sensitive Files Exposed Online
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/10/2019
Intel Issues Fix for 'Plundervolt' SGX Flaw
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/11/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-5252
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
There is an improper authentication vulnerability in Huawei smartphones (Y9, Honor 8X, Honor 9 Lite, Honor 9i, Y6 Pro). The applock does not perform a sufficient authentication in a rare condition. Successful exploit could allow the attacker to use the application locked by applock in an instant.
CVE-2019-5235
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
Some Huawei smart phones have a null pointer dereference vulnerability. An attacker crafts specific packets and sends to the affected product to exploit this vulnerability. Successful exploitation may cause the affected phone to be abnormal.
CVE-2019-5264
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
There is an information disclosure vulnerability in certain Huawei smartphones (Mate 10;Mate 10 Pro;Honor V10;Changxiang 7S;P-smart;Changxiang 8 Plus;Y9 2018;Honor 9 Lite;Honor 9i;Mate 9). The software does not properly handle certain information of applications locked by applock in a rare condition...
CVE-2019-5277
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Huawei CloudUSM-EUA V600R006C10;V600R019C00 have an information leak vulnerability. Due to improper configuration, the attacker may cause information leak by successful exploitation.
CVE-2019-5254
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Certain Huawei products (AP2000;IPS Module;NGFW Module;NIP6300;NIP6600;NIP6800;S5700;SVN5600;SVN5800;SVN5800-C;SeMG9811;Secospace AntiDDoS8000;Secospace USG6300;Secospace USG6500;Secospace USG6600;USG6000V;eSpace U1981) have an out-of-bounds read vulnerability. An attacker who logs in to the board m...