Thursday, October 6, 2016

Yahoo "Hacked and Spied" on Millions of Customer Emails | Yahoo Secretly Scanned Customer Emails for US intelligence

Image Source.
Source - CNBC

by REUTERS, October 4th 2016

Yahoo last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers' incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency's demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time. It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters.

That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.

According to the two former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer's decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security

Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook.

"Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States," the company said in a brief statement in response to Reuters questions about the demand. Yahoo declined any further comment.

Through a Facebook spokesman, Stamos declined a request for an interview.

The NSA referred questions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which declined to comment.

The demand to search Yahoo Mail accounts came in the form of a classified directive sent to the company's legal team, according to the three people familiar with the matter.

U.S. phone and Internet companies are known to have handed over bulk customer data to intelligence agencies. But some former government officials and private surveillance experts said they had not previously seen either such a broad directive for real-time Web collection or one that required the creation of a new computer program.

"I've never seen that, a wiretap in real time on a 'selector,"' said Albert Gidari, a lawyer who represented phone and Internet companies on surveillance issues for 20 years before moving to Stanford University this year. A selector refers to a type of search term used to zero in on specific information.

"It would be really difficult for a provider to do that," he added.

Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other Internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target. The NSA usually makes requests for domestic surveillance through the FBI, so it is hard to know which agency is seeking the information.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the 2015 demand went to other companies, or if any complied.

Alphabet's Google and Microsoft, two major U.S. email service providers, did not respond to requests for comment.

Challenging the NSA

Under laws including the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, intelligence agencies can ask U.S. phone and Internet companies to provide customer data to aid foreign intelligence-gathering efforts for a variety of reasons, including prevention of terrorist attacks.

Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and others have exposed the extent of electronic surveillance and led U.S. authorities to modestly scale back some of the programs, in part to protect privacy rights.
Companies including Yahoo have challenged some classified surveillance before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal.

Some FISA experts said Yahoo could have tried to fight last year's directive on at least two grounds: the breadth of the demand and the necessity of writing a special program to search all customers' emails in transit.

Apple made a similar argument earlier this year when it refused to create a special program to break into an encrypted iPhone used in the 2015 San Bernardino massacre. The FBI dropped the case after it unlocked the phone with the help of a third party, so no precedent was set.

Other FISA experts defended Yahoo's decision to comply, saying nothing prohibited the surveillance court from ordering a search for a specific term instead of a specific account. So-called "upstream" bulk collection from phone carriers based on content was found to be legal, they said, and the same logic could apply to Web companies' mail.

As tech companies become better at encrypting data, they are likely to face more such requests from spy agencies.

Former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker said email providers "have the power to encrypt it all, and with that comes added responsibility to do some of the work that had been done by the intelligence agencies."

Related Public Awareness Announcement: We now have the evidence of paid government trolls targeting the online reputation of bloggers radio show hosts and other positive change agents

Secret siphoning program

Mayer and other executives ultimately decided to comply with the directive last year rather than fight it, in part because they thought they would lose, said the people familiar with the matter.

Yahoo in 2007 had fought a FISA demand that it conduct searches on specific email accounts without a court-approved warrant. Details of the case remain sealed, but a partially redacted published opinion showed Yahoo's challenge was unsuccessful.

Some Yahoo employees were upset about the decision not to contest the more recent directive and thought the company could have prevailed, the sources said.

They were also upset that Mayer and Yahoo General Counsel Ron Bell did not involve the company's security team in the process, instead asking Yahoo's email engineers to write a program to siphon off messages containing the character string the spies sought and store them for remote retrieval, according to the sources.

The sources said the program was discovered by Yahoo's security team in May 2015, within weeks of its installation. The security team initially thought hackers had broken in.

When Stamos found out that Mayer had authorized the program, he resigned as chief information security officer and told his subordinates that he had been left out of a decision that hurt users' security, the sources said. Due to a programming flaw, he told them hackers could have accessed the stored emails.

Stamos's announcement in June 2015 that he had joined Facebook did not mention any problems with Yahoo.

In a separate incident, Yahoo last month said "state-sponsored" hackers had gained access to 500 million customer accounts in 2014. The revelations have brought new scrutiny to Yahoo's security practices as the company tries to complete a deal to sell its core business to Verizon Communications for $4.8 billion.
Stillness in the Storm Editor's note: Did you find a spelling error or grammar mistake? Do you think this article needs a correction or update? Or do you just have some feedback? Send us an email at sitsshow@gmail.comThank you for reading.

Question -- What is the goal of this website? Why do we share different sources of information that sometimes conflicts or might even be considered disinformation? 
Answer -- The primary goal of Stillness in the Storm is to help all people become better truth-seekers in a real-time boots-on-the-ground fashion. This is for the purpose of learning to think critically, discovering the truth from within—not just believing things blindly because it came from an "authority" or credible source. Instead of telling you what the truth is, we share information from many sources so that you can discern it for yourself. We focus on teaching you the tools to become your own authority on the truth, gaining self-mastery, sovereignty, and freedom in the process. We want each of you to become your own leaders and masters of personal discernment, and as such, all information should be vetted, analyzed and discerned at a personal level. We also encourage you to discuss your thoughts in the comments section of this site to engage in a group discernment process. 

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. " – Aristotle

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views Stillness in the Storm, the authors who contribute to it, or those who follow it. 

View and Share our Images
Curious about Stillness in the Storm? 
See our About this blog - Contact Us page.

If it was not for the gallant support of readers, we could not devote so much energy into continuing this blog. We greatly appreciate any support you provide!

We hope you benefit from this not-for-profit site 

It takes hours of work every day to maintain, write, edit, research, illustrate and publish this blog. We have been greatly empowered by our search for the truth, and the work of other researchers. We hope our efforts 
to give back, with this website, helps others in gaining 
knowledge, liberation and empowerment.

"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; 
not going all the way, and not starting." - Buddha

If you find our work of value, consider making a Contribution.
This website is supported by readers like you. 

[Click on Image below to Contribute]

Support Stillness in the Storm

Sign up for Gaia TV

Sign up for Gaia TV
By signing up through this link you also support SITS