From: "jeff davis" <email@example.com>
> Time for skepticism. Part of the war on terrorism is
> an information war. What little credence one might
> have summoned up, prior to 9/1, for any particular
> media factoid has IMO dried up
The media seem to agree with you:
Experts Say Spotting Terrorists Messages Online Is Mission Impossible
Watching the Web for Wicked Messages
Evidence is mounting that the terrorists responsible for last month's attacks
on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were technically sophisticated -
communicating with each other via encrypted messages hidden within digital
images sent via the Internet.
To follow that electronic trail, the FBI and other investigative agencies
might have relied on sophisticated Internet monitoring systems such as
Carnivore - a set of computers and software that can watch for traffic headed
for a unique Internet address.
But according to many computer security experts, finding electronic clues to
prevent future attacks won't be easy - even with all of the technological
tools available to investigators.
For one, Carnivore - more officially known as DSC1000 - requires the FBI to
know a specific suspect's Internet address in order to get a court order for a
an e-mail wiretap. "You have to know who you're looking for," said Michael
Vatis, a computer crime expert and director of the Institute for Security
Technology Studies at Dartmouth College. "You have to have a subject, not just
a broad fishing expedition."
Employing Echelon - If It Exists
With such legal limitations on Carnivore, some suspect that another monitoring
system called Echelon may be in place. Supposedly, the system is run by the
National Security Agency and can capture electronic signals - fax, phone, and
computer data - as they travel over international telecommunication satellites
in space. Computers would then filter out suspected communications based on
"keywords" such as "bomb" or by matching a particular voice-pattern in phone
The NSA won't comment on the capabilities - or even the existence - of
Echelon. But experts doubt that even such a super electronic spying system, if
it does exist, would be able to catch every suspicious message.
"Real-time monitoring of the Internet of all communications its not possible,"
says Dave Lang, director of training and forensics with Veridian, a computer
network security firm in Arlington, Va. "The volume of data would require the
largest of supercomputers. There's just too much data."
Lang, a former special agent in counterintelligence for the Air Force, says he
couldn't comment if there was indeed a project called Echelon within the
global intelligence community. However, he says, the system that some describe
Echelon as being wouldn't be possible.
A Picture or a Plot?
Even if Echelon exists and functions as some suspect, other computer security
experts say that terrorists and criminals can further hide their incriminating
messages within the daily flood of computer data with common - but difficult
to crack - encryption software.
"Encryption, as the government has been saying for years, is getting much
better," says Vatis, who was the first director of the federal National
Infrastucture Protection Center. "And if they use strong encryption, the
government can't break it."
To further complicate matters, the coded messages may have then be hidden
within digital pictures - a process known as steganography. And since
steganography doesn't alter the physical appearance of the picture, there's no
easy way to spot a steganographed image on the Internet.
Some security groups are trying to develop tools to combat steganography.
Colin Rose with IoMart, a network security firm in Glasgow, Scotland, says
that most steganographed images have certain unique file characteristics - an
extra bit of data, say - that may tip off investigators to be suspicious.
But with thousands of steganography programs - each with its own means of
encrypting messages into files - available on the Internet, Rose says it's
impossible to know every single "signature" tip off. "There's no easy answer
for law enforcement, unfortunately," says Rose.
Staying Hidden in Plain Sight
Even if fool-proof countermeasures against steganography and other electronic
encoding tricks could be developed, some experts say terrorists and criminals
have other ways to communicate hidden messages in plain sight.
The recent requests by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to American
news agencies to edit or limit broadcasts from Osama bin Laden, for example,
is partly on the suspicion that certain phrases may be cryptic messages to his
followers to initiate new attacks.
And according to Eugene Spafford, director of the Purdue Center for Education
and Research in Information Assurance and Security at Purdue University,
there's no technological solution to monitoring seemingly innocuous messages.
"If they are using conversations like 'Oh, I'll get that package to you,' how
would you know what they are talking about and find it," he says.
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
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