Could You Prevent ‘Big Brother’ Watching?

By Rachel Ehrenfeld and Stephen Bryen*
Wednesday, March 8th, 2017 @ 11:30AM

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell described the protagonist, Winston Smith’s efforts to find a way to prevent Big Brother from watching his expressions:

“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”

Winston kept his back turned to the telescreen. It was safer, though, as he well knew, even a back can be revealing.”

In 1949, when Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published, one could have evaded Big Brother’s watchful camera under the cover of darkness. Today, however,  “Night Vision” technologies can penetrate darkness.

Today, according to Wikileaks latest stolen documents release, the United States Intelligence Agency (CIA) together with the British domestic Intelligence agency- MI5, joined in developing televisions (especially Samsung’s Smart TV), smartphones, cars, and other computerized devices into spying machines.

So, what do you do to stop any Big Brother from invading your privacy, spying on all your activities everywhere? Watching you and listing to your conversations? Even to your snoring? 

Stephen Bryen offers the following:

What do you do if all your devices are open to hacking? –Android and iPhone phones and watches, Bluetooth, WiFi, “Smart” TVs, laptops, tablets, GPS, car stereo, computers, Alexa and Google Home, home alarm systems –in other words, everything?

What could you do if all your devices are open to hacking? – Android and iPhone phones and watches, Bluetooth, WiFi, “Smart” TVs, laptops, tablets, GPS, car stereo, computers, Alexa and Google Home, home alarm systems – in other words, everything?

Here are three solutions:

Solution 1.  Find a way to put security on the device or devices so malware can’t affect them. This solution sounds good, but it is impossible.  Consider the webcam on your PC or laptop. How can you protect it from being turned on without your permission and without you knowing it?  The only way to defeat the camera is to put a cover over the webcam. And you have to remember to keep it covered.  That, however, will do nothing to stop laptop microphones, which are not co-located with the camera.  And even if you cover your camera on a PC, the microphone is sensitive enough to hear everything you have to say. Is there a software solution, like a hard switch?  There should be, but you won’t find one on the market.  Wonder why?

Is there a software solution, like a hard switch?  There should be, but you won’t find one on the market.  Wonder why?

The truth is that attempts to make devices secure are difficult, if not impossible, mainly because hardware producers don’t care much about security.

Consider surveillance cameras.  Today’s surveillance cameras run on WiFi and are connected to the Internet.  Security?  There isn’t any.  So when the government surrounds its most sensitive diplomatic sites with cameras, as they did in Afghanistan, not only did they buy WiFi based cameras that run openly on the Internet, but they bought them from a Chinese-owned company on a sole source contract without caring one whit about security.  Hooray for the State Department!

Solution 2.  Turn Off all devices.  This sounds like a good solution except it is not.  In fact, it is much worse than moving your devices away from where you are because a turned off device is not safe.  There is malware produced by the NSA and CIA that provides a false off-setting, so what you think is off is still running.  Thus a smartphone, for example, will still be on in a limited manner so that the microphone is working recording all conversations, which it can either store and send later, or live stream.

The same is true for your TV.  Wikileaks, in a big expose of the CIA, says that the CIAdeveloped a malware with a fake off for Samsung smart TVs in cooperation with MI5.BTSS.  So the TV speaker is transformed into an ultrasensitive microphone that is always on, hearing everything and pushing it along the Internet back to Big Brother.  You can bet your boots that all the other spy operations in the world are exploiting TVs and other devices in a similar manner.  So if there is a TV in the room, go to another room without a TV.  And leave your smartphone with the receptionist.

Solution 3.  Be an aggressive and persistent liar or APL.  An APL figures he or she is wiretapped, so the idea is to provide a steady stream of false and misleading information.

An APL requires a lot of discipline and prior arrangement with his interlocutors.  If he or she is a really good APL, the story telling and misdirection can be very sophisticated.  But obviously it has to be credible, so it takes practice to reach the top levels of APL.

Terrorists have been known not so much to be APLs as to use substitute words and phrases to cloak what they mean.  For example, “We are going to meet tomorrow at Pine Cone where we will buy hamburgers” where Pine Cone could be a certain gun shop, and hamburgers could be assault rifles.  Substitute words require a phrase book and a lot of prior preparation.  If the phrase book is discovered or compromised, the terrorist is likely to find himself or herself at the losing end of a Hellfire missile.

The biggest ongoing security problem is that people lack either the discipline or interest in following reasonable security procedures.

Don’t believe that?  Then ask how Mike Pence, our Vice President, and Hillary Clinton were willing to use commercial email services that are easily hacked, or in Ms. Clinton’s case risky mobile phones.  Many others join these ranks including Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French premier who thought he could cheat by using a false name on the phone account, or Angela Merkel, who found that her secure smartphones were all exposed to U.S. spying, or John Kerry who persisted in using his iPhone, or at least that is what State Department folks told me.  And there are many others, in fact way too many.

We may have reached the point that even where there are willing security-motivated participants, the risks are so overwhelming that any semblance of maintaining privacy is impossible.

That raises not only issues of personal security but national security.  Things are clearly out of hand.

 *A version of this commentary has been posted on Bryen’s Blog, on March 7, 2017. 


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Categories: 1984, Big Brother Watching, CIA, Hacking, Latest News, Wiretapping