Security News This Week: Snowden-Hater Michael Pompeo May Be CIA Director

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Slide: 1 / of 1. Caption: Caption: Republican Mike Pompeo speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Republican Mike Pompeo speaks to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

President-elect Trump’s transition to power is reshaping American government, and the worlds of cybersecurity and surveillance are no exception. A congressman who’s called for Snowden’s execution may soon lead the CIA. The director of national intelligence is out, and the head of the NSA may take his place. And a senator with a horrifying record on civil liberties, particularly privacy and online surveillance could soon helm the Department of Justice.

Politics aside, however, it was back to business as usual in the hacker world: bad code and big breaches. In a scaled-up replay of last year’s spill of private information from extramarital affairs site Ashley Madison, hackers breached the online hookup dating company FriendFinder, exposing user information from more than 412 million accounts. The Mirai malware, which was instrumental in recent disruptive attacks on internet service companies, isn’t going anywhere—in fact, it’s evolving. In national news, a federal judge in Minnesota has been considering psychological “deradicalization” programs as an alternative sentence to prison for would-be terrorists. US director of national intelligence James Clapper will resign at the end of the Obama administration and gave an exclusive interview to WIRED about his career and thoughts about US spying. Oh, and a cheap new USB dongle can take over a PC (even a locked one) in about minute and then potentially compromise networks the computer is on. So there’s a dose of dystopian dread for your weekend.

And there’s more. Each Saturday we round up the news stories that we didn’t break or cover in depth but that still deserve your attention. As always, click on the headlines to read the full story in each link posted. And stay safe out there.

Trump Asks Snowden-Hater Michael Pompeo to Be CIA Director

On Friday, president-elect Trump tapped Congressman and former Army officer Mike Pompeo as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Pompeo has served in Congress for three terms and is known for his presence on the House Intelligence Committee, particularly during the Benghazi hearings. Recently he tweeted to criticize the Iran nuclear deal. Pompeo is also an outspoken critic of whistleblower Edward Snowden. He told CSPAN earlier this year that Snowden “should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.”

Officials Asked Obama to Oust NSA Chief

It’s not Trump’s power transition alone that’s shaking up the politics of the US intelligence agencies. The head of the Pentagon and the director of national intelligence have also asked Obama to remove NSA chief Michael Rogers, unnamed officials tell the Washington Post. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and DNI James Clapper have requested Rogers’ ouster after his failure to stop the repeated leaks of classified NSA data in recent years, including in the case of the hackers known as “Shadow Brokers” who published a set of the agency’s secret tools, and two NSA employees and contractors who violated their clearances in their handling of sensitive agency data. The two officials have also been unimpressed with Rogers’ handling of the threat of ISIS, according to the Post. But Rogers may have already found an escape route: As the Wall Street Journal first reported Friday, Trump is considering Rogers for the position of director of national intelligence, replacing one of his own greatest critics.

An Android Phone Backdoor Sent Data to China

Security firm Kryptowire offered evidence this week that a backdoor in some low-end Android phones has been sending data on users’ locations, contacts, text messages, and calls to servers in China. Customers bought infected phones without any sign of the silent data collection. The spy software is made by a Chinese group, Shanghai Adups Technology Company, which says that its various products are on more than 700 million phones plus other devices and cars. So far it seems that the backdoor specifically may be on hundreds of thousands, but not millions, of phones in the US, and has been removed from some US units like phones from BLU Products. The full scope of the malware’s distribution worldwide is still unknown, as is its intent—whether it was built for corporate data collection or even more nefarious state intelligence gathering.

Mysterious Skyscraper in Manhattan Is a Crucial NSA Spy Center

An AT&T building in downtown Manhattan that has no windows and was built in the early 1970s as a sort of fortress for long-distance calling is more than just a telecommunications center. According to documents provided by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and additional Intercept reporting, the building is also a stronghold of the NSA’s surveillance program, codenamed TITANPOINTE. Evidence indicates that the AT&T location is a “gateway switch” for international calling, and that the NSA has embedded there to capitalize on its potential for phone call surveillance. The agency has also apparently used the site for fax and internet monitoring. The report adds to existing evidence that the NSA has close ties to many US telecommunications companies, particularly AT&T.

WhatsApp Adds Encrypted Video Calls

The communication app WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, added end-to-end encrypted video calling this week and made the feature available in 180 countries. WhatsApp has more than a billion users and already added full encryption to its messaging platform and calling earlier this year. This means that the company can’t decrypt customer communications, now including video chats, for governments. WhatsApp does store some user data like contacts, and changed its privacy policy in August so it could share the phone numbers of its users with Facebook. But offering full end-to-end encryption on multiple communication services is a much stronger privacy gesture than most of WhatsApp’s competitors have been willing to make so far.

Twitter Gave the FBI Access to User Data Tool It Denied CIA

The FBI began contracting with the Twitter analytics firm Dataminr last week in spite of the fact that Twitter and Dataminr revoked CIA access to the firm’s tools earlier this year. Twitter owns a five percent stake in Dataminr and provides the company with exclusive use of its “firehose” of raw user data. Dataminr uses this mass of data to track trends in real-time and send alerts to its clients about incidents and events worldwide as they unfold. In May Twitter blocked the CIA’s ability to contract with Dataminr, but has allowed the FBI contract to proceed so far. Giving government agencies access to raw Twitter user data seems to violate a part of Twitter’s Developer Agreement, which says that data can’t be accessed to “investigate, track or surveil Twitter’s users.” Dataminr declined to comment to the Verge about how the FBI contract is different from the former CIA contract.

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