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The Biggest Leaks Revealed by Edward Snowden

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When 2013 began, the general public had no idea who Edward Joseph Snowden was, but by the end of the year, everyone knew his name. Snowden, a former CIA employee who spent time working with the NSA, decided to share highly classified information with several leading journalists, who then broke the news to the world.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Snowden’s astonishing revelations have changed the world as we know it, shedding damning light on intelligence agencies and systems all over the world and making countless people think long and hard about their own privacy, anonymity, and security.

“We had a cyber Pearl Harbor. His name was Edward Snowden.”Ashton Carter, Former Secretary of Defense

Countless stories have been written, and debates have raged in the years since the leak began, and everyone has their view on Snowden and the mind-blowing information he shared with the world. His actions even led to the development of the USA Freedom Act, which was designed to limit the amount and type of data that could be monitored and recorded.

However, the fact of the matter, as Snowden’s leaks revealed, is that there’s a whole lot of spying and secret data-gathering going on behind-the-scenes of our lives. There’s still probably plenty that we don’t even know, but Snowden’s info helped to blow the whole thing open. Here are some breakdowns of some of the biggest and most important revelations he shared.

The NSA Can Demand Call Records And Data From Telephone Companies

This was actually one of the first major stories to come out in the wake of the Snowden leaks, but it’s still one of the most important. The initial story showed that Verizon, one of the biggest telephone companies around, was forced to provide the NSA with data and records for almost all of its customers.

Later on, we saw that Verizon wasn’t the only company involved in this sort of thing. Other major telephone companies like Sprint and AT&T were also handing over phone records and info to the intelligence agency without customers having any idea what was going on.

This revelation was enormous and generated significant debate at the time, with many of those debates still ongoing to this day. Then-President Barack Obama announced plans to overhaul the NSA’s data collection programs in what would eventually lead to the development of the USA Freedom Act.

Triggering A Wave Of Privacy Concerns

“When you give up your privacy, you give up your power.” – Thor Benson, Journalist
This first major leak from Snowden also had a big effect on public views about surveillance and privacy. Before then, many people had laughed off the thought of the NSA spying on their phone calls and taking their data behind their backs.

The whole notion seemed like something out of a conspiracy theory, but Snowden’s leaks proved that it was very real. From there, the public began to put more focus on protecting their mobile privacy in any way possible, as well as thinking more deeply about privacy and anonymity online through the increased use of VPNs.

The Power Of Smurfs

Sticking with the phone theme, Snowden’s leaks also taught us that the GCHQ, which is essentially the British version of the NSA, has the terrifying ability to actually control people’s phones, even when they’re switched off. To do this, they make use of a series of tools named after Smurfs, the little blue cartoon characters first created in an old Belgian comic series.

The Smurfs And What They Do

“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me.’”Philip K. Dick, Author

Snowden revealed that the GCHQ had a whole list of Smurf tools, each with its own use and purpose. Here are some examples:

  • Dreamy Smurf – Has the ability to turn phones on or off remotely
  • Nosey Smurf – Has the ability to make use of the phone’s microphone to listen to conversations and noise in the local area
  • Tracker Smurf – Has the ability to precisely track your position
  • Paranoid Smurf – Works to hide the activities of the other Smurfs to prevent detection

As we can see, the power of these ‘Smurfs’ is quite terrifying. Naturally, these tools and software programs are only designed to be used against criminals and suspected terrorists, but the very fact that such technology exists was enough to send a shiver down the spine of many members of the general public.

PRISM

“The government doesn’t want any system of transmitting information to remain unbroken unless it’s under its own control.”Isaac Asimov, Tales of the Black Widowers

By far, one of the scariest revelations for the American public was the existence of PRISM. PRISM was the code name given to an NSA program in which the agency could effectively demand data from major tech and internet companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple.

PRISM, it turned out, has been a major source of intelligence for NSA reports, and it was a terrifying thing for the general public to learn about. People did respond, however, through protests, debates, and demonstrations, as well as encouraging each another to start focusing more strongly on protecting privacy and anonymity online.

The sorts of content the NSA could collect included search histories, downloads, emails, and more. The focus of the program was to track potential terrorism suspects, but the system effectively allowed for the data of almost any internet user to be taken, making it a huge threat to people’s privacy.

The NSA Can Intercept Packages Before They Reach Your Home

An astonishing report published in the German newspaper ‘Der Spiegel’ revealed that the NSA has a whole list of scary surveillance systems and methods in place to keep their eyes everywhere and spy on people without them being any the wiser.

The report showed that the NSA was able to intercept package deliveries that were on their way to a person’s home. From there, intelligence agents could open up the packages and see what was inside, as well as adding their own espionage tools and software programs.

That way, they could effectively find packages that were going into suspects’ homes, add bugs and traces to the items inside, and monitor what the suspect was using the equipment for and what was going on behind closed doors.

The ANT Catalog

Der Spiegel’s report went on to highlight some of the tools that could be used, comparing the list to a ‘mail-order catalog.’ The tools were all grouped under the acronym ANT, which stands for Advanced Network Technology. Each tool has its own codename and product listing in the ‘catalog,’ which describes its functions and uses.

ANT Tool Examples:

  • SURLYSPAWN – Able to log keystrokes on a computer and transmit them wirelessly, even when the computer isn’t connected to the internet
  • CANDYGRAM – Able to imitate a GSM cell phone tower to monitor cell communications
  • FIREWALK – Designed to look just like a regular RJ45 internet socket, this tool can inject and monitor device data via radio waves
  • MONKEYCALENDAR – Able to transmit a cell phone’s geolocation via a secret text message
  • COTTONMOUTH – Designed to look like USB and Ethernet connectors, these tools can hack into computers and provide remote access

Again, just like the Smurf tools used by the GCHQ in the United Kingdom, these code named espionage tools and pieces of equipment were very scary to learn about for many people as they proved that NSA agents had access to gear that could make surveillance incredibly easy for them and almost entirely undetectable for their targets.

The NSA Can Even Hack Tech Giants

An article in The Washington Post stated that the NSA had actually hacked into data centers of major tech giants Google and Yahoo in order to monitor communications and traffic at these centers.

This was a particularly scary revelation for members of the general public as it proved that there were almost no limits to what the NSA’s spy tools were capable of. If even the biggest internet companies on the planet could be hacked with such apparent ease, was anyone really safe?

It was also shocking for people to see that the NSA was prepared to use its wealth of hacking tools against big American companies. Google and Yahoo both released statements to deny any awareness of the surveillance and express their shock and dismay, with Yahoo even taking action to encrypt its connections.

The former CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Meyer, stated that Yahoo would not provide the NSA with any access to its data centers and never had in the past. This helped to reassure many members of the public and general internet users, but a lot of people still worried that big companies were making shady deals behind their backs.

Britain’s NSA Spies On Fiber Optic Connections All Over The Globe

The GCHQ, Britain’s NSA equivalent, was also revealed to use various surveillance tools to hack into fiber optic cables and connections all over the globe. This is all done under the code name ‘Tempora,’ which is a surveillance system that has been running since 2011.

This system essentially involved the GCHQ placing interceptors on several hundred fiber optic cables going in and out of the United Kingdom. These interceptors could seize data directly from the cables, with intelligence agents then closely observing and analyzing that data for anything that they might deem interesting or worthy of further investigation.

According to Snowden’s leaks, the information gathered by GCHQ via Tempora could also be shared with the NSA, with hundreds of thousands of NSA contractors being able to look at this data.

The NSA Collects Contact Lists

“There has never been a time in human history where so many people routinely carry recording and surveillance devices.”Steven Magee, Author

Part of the NSA’s surveillance and anti-terrorism measures also include the collection of countless email and contact lists from internet and smartphone users. Snowden’s leaks showed that up to 250 million of these contact lists could be taken each year.

It’s important to note that this system was only used overseas and aimed at non-US citizens, but the fact of the matter is that when literally hundreds of thousands of these lists are being collected all over the globe, and a lot of Americans also happen to be traveling in foreign places, it’s inevitable that their data is also going to be at risk.

Boundless Informant Proved That The NSA Spied On Americans

Boundless Informant (or BOUNDLESSINFORMANT) is the code name given to a big data analysis tool used by the NSA. This tool basically tracks all of the metadata collected by the NSA around the world and makes a kind of ‘heatmap’ of that data to show where it came from and which countries are targeted most frequently.

The tool showed that billions of pieces of information were being collected every single month, and it also showed that several billion pieces were being taken from citizens of the United States. This was despite the fact that the NSA had specifically stated to Congress that it did not gather data on millions of American citizens and didn’t even have the capacity to do so.

XKeyScore Allows The NSA To Track Anyone’s Online Activity

“You could read anyone’s email in the world, anybody you’ve got an email address for. Any website: You can watch traffic to and from it. Any computer that an individual sits at: You can watch it. Any laptop that you’re tracking: you can follow it as it moves from place to place throughout the world. It’s a one-stop-shop for access to the NSA’s information.”

That’s how Edward Snowden describes the power of XKeyScore, which is perhaps the most powerful NSA internet espionage tool of them all. Also known as XKS, this computer system is designed to search through and analyze internet data from users all over the globe, and huge amounts of that data are being collected each and every day.

What’s more, all of that data can then be shared with other intelligence agencies as part of the ‘Five Eyes‘ and ‘Fourteen Eyes’ alliances, so agencies like the GCHQ in the United Kingdom or the Defense Intelligence Headquarters of Japan could also get access to information on a person’s browsing habits, search history, and general internet usage.

Fighting Back Against Internet Surveillance

With so many harrowing revelations coming out of the Snowden leaks, especially in regard to internet surveillance through systems like XKeyScore, many people want to take action to be safer online and keep their data private.

That’s why statistics are showing a big leap in the number of people making use of virtual private networks (VPNs). VPN providers like ExpressVPN and NordVPN are essentially able to encrypt your internet connections and hide your presence online, meaning that even if attempts were made to track your activity, they wouldn’t be successful.

Other VPNs Worth Checking Out:

Pros And Cons Of Using A VPN

Pros Cons
Hide your online presence and encrypt your connections for total anonymity Monthly/Annual subscription fees
Stay safe from hackers and malicious software. Connection speeds can sometimes vary, depending on the VPN you choose
Access region-locked or restricted content and services like Netflix
Enjoy total security when traveling.

The NSA Spies On Global Leaders

We’ve seen that giant tech companies like Google and Apple aren’t safe from the NSA’s spy tools, and the same can be said for world leaders like presidents and prime ministers. Many documents from Snowden’s files have revealed that the NSA has targeted over 120 different global leaders over the years, spying on their communications and actually listening in on their phone conversations.

Examples Of Leaders Who Have Been Hacked:

The likes of former Brazilian President Dilma Roussef, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and current German Chancellor Angela Merkel have all been victims of the NSA’s surveillance. The NSA was even able to spy on meetings between multiple world leaders at the likes of the G8 and G20 summits.

The Knock-On Effect

This sort of surveillance doesn’t directly affect the average member of the general public, but the revelations have already led to rising tensions between the United States and several other countries around the world. For example, when Snowden revealed that the NSA had been spying on China, the relationship between the two countries was dealt a big blow.

The NSA Actively Works Against Internet Encryption

Again, we can see another scary revelation for internet users all over the world as Snowden’s leaks also revealed that the NSA had teams of agents tasked with breaking down widely-used encryption and security measures used online.

A document from the GCHQ stated: “For the past decade, NSA has led an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used internet encryption technologies… Vast amounts of encrypted internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable”.

This NSA program was nicknamed Bullrun and made use of different hacking tools like brute-force attacks in order to break through standard encryption systems like HTTPS and SSL, which are used all over the internet for systems like online banking and purchases.

The NSA Has Its Own ‘Special Forces’ Team Of Hackers

As well as having a myriad of remarkably powerful hacking tools and systems at its disposal, the NSA can also call on the services of the “Tailored Access Operations” team. Abbreviated to TAO, this team is made up of elite hackers who can make use of various tools (like those seen in the ANT catalog, above) in order to hack into computers with astonishing ease.

With an arsenal of hacking systems and devices to choose from, the TAO team is able to break into computers regardless of whether they’re online or offline. From there, they can monitor location, internet activity, keystrokes, communications, and more, as well as infecting the device with Trojan horses and other forms of malware.

Intelligence Agencies Can Even Spy On You Through Angry Birds

It might sound too crazy to be true, but the reports and leaks have also stated that intelligence agencies like the NSA or the British GCHQ can actually make use of flaws in the designs of certain apps, including popular mobile games like Angry Birds, to spy on smartphone users. These apps are nicknamed ‘leaky apps,’ and there are millions of examples out there.

Just by opening a simple game, the sort of thing that millions of people are doing every single day while riding the train to work or taking a quick coffee break, you could be providing intelligence agencies with personal data like your age, sex, name, email address, and even your current location.

How Does It Happen?

These information ‘leaks’ are all down to the fact that many apps often demand access to some of your personal information in order to provide additional functionality like social media integration and the ability to share your high scores or play with friends. These apps aren’t being made by security experts, so they can come with a few little holes for intelligence agencies or malicious hackers to exploit.

The extent to which intelligence agencies can use apps to obtain information about a user isn’t fully clear, but it is believed that as well as basic info and current location, agents could also use apps to learn about your political alignment, sexual orientation, income, marital status, education level, and more!

Leaky App Examples:

  • Twitter
  • Google Maps
  • Flickr
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
Blokt is a leading independent privacy resource that maintains the highest possible professional and ethical journalistic standards.

Source: https://blokt.com/guides/edward-snowden-leaks

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Indian government cautious about crypto-adoption, CBDC is a possibility

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Indian traders and exchanges might be bullish about the crypto market, but the Indian  government doesn’t seem keen on rushing into the scene. At least, not until studying its homegrown fintech industry and the anti-Bitcoin protests in El Salvador.

Tracking global news

Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in a recent interview with Hindustan Times explained why the country seemed to be falling behind when it came to crypto adoption.

Though she admitted, El Salvador wasn’t “the best example,” Sitharaman said,

“You’d think common people don’t care about digital currency; but the public took to the streets against the move. It’s not a question of literacy or understanding – it’s also a question of to what extent this is a transparent currency; is it going to be a currency available for everyone?”

Sitharaman referred to CBDCs as a “legitimate” cryptocurrency and admitted there could be a “possibility,” in hat regard. She noted that India held the “strength of the technology” and acknowledged the need to formulate a Cabinet note. However, Sitharaman wondered if India was ready to follow El Salvador’s way.

Facts on the ground

Though accessibility is a pressing concern, more Indians have discovered crypto than perhaps expected.

Nischal Shetty, CEO of the Indian crypto exchange WazirX – a subsidiary of Binance Holdings – has stated that WazirX sign-ups from India’s tier-two and tier-three cities overtook those from tier-one cities this year. Even so, sign-ups from tier-one cities themselves saw a 2,375% rise. Furthermore, WazirX added one million users in April 2021 alone.

Adding to this, the cost of electricity and Internet data in India are relatively cheaper, which could boost both crypto trading and mining in the future. However, at the last count, there was only one Bitcoin ATM in the whole country.

As per data by Useful Tulips, which combined data from Paxful and LocalBitcoins, India saw transfers worth around $4,502,369 in the last two weeks.

Could anti-Bitcoin protests happen in India?

There is evidence to support both sides. India has a strong history of mass protests, with the farmers’ protests against the government’s agricultural laws being one such example. The 2016 demonetization of part of the country’s paper currency still haunts many, and Internet penetration is yet to cross 50%.

However, India also has the largest diaspora in the world, with approximately 18 million people living outside the country. Crypto innovation could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars being saved on remittance charges as money is sent across borders.

But for the time being, it seems India’s urban residents are more bullish about crypto than its government.

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Source: https://ambcrypto.com/indian-government-cautious-about-crypto-adoption-cbdc-is-a-possibility

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A Deep Dive Into The Bitcoin Wallets Of U.S Congress Members, And Why Bitcoiners Are Strongly Against Them

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A Deep Dive Into The Bitcoin Wallets Of U.S Congress Members, And Why Bitcoiners Are Strongly Against Them

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Key takeaways

  • U.S. Congress’ split disposition towards cryptocurrencies raises concerns among market participants.
  • Bitcoin proponent, James Loop goes digging into the financial disclosures of Congress members.
  • His findings revealed only three Congress members have ever disclosed that they hold Bitcoin.

The United States is a key base for innovation and adoption in the cryptocurrency industry. According to data from Crunchbase, there are at least 1,135 organizations founded in the U.S. that provide various cryptocurrency-related services.

Despite the broad adoption of the asset class by the country’s citizens, the government is still divided on opinions about the growing cryptocurrency industry. This can be seen in the U.S. Congress where members of Congress are split between those who support and those who do not support Bitcoin, the most prominent cryptocurrency.

This polarised disposition of Congress has been a pain point for Bitcoiners. Bitcoin market participants have pointed out several issues that emanate from the fact that there are still members of Congress who have not shown themselves to fully understand Bitcoin.

The sentiment is that Congress members who do not fully understand the asset, having not used it, should not be responsible for making laws about it. Additionally, market participants also think it will be a conflict of interest if members of Congress who oppose Bitcoin are found to be holding Bitcoin or if those who support it do not own any. 

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Jameson Lopp, the co-founder, and chief technology officer of Casa – a leading provider of Bitcoin self custody solutions, has gone digging into the United States Senate Financial Disclosures portal. The investigation was carried out to identify Congress members who have declared holdings of cryptocurrencies, and Bitcoin in particular, in their portfolios. 

His findings paint a dismal picture as the majority of the members of Congress who have been vocal in supporting Bitcoin have not held the asset at all according to their financial disclosures for the year ending 2020.

According to his findings, only 3 Congress members have disclosed that they own Bitcoin. The now-retired Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia was the first Congressman to disclose the ownership of Bitcoin, doing so in 2017 even before laws were passed to make disclosure mandatory. According to his disclosure, he owned between $1,000 and $15,000 of Bitcoin at the time.

Among currently seated Congress members, only Senators Cynthia Lummis and Pat Toomey have reported Bitcoin holdings in their portfolios in 2020. Senator  Lummis reported owning $100,000 – $250,000 of bitcoin in 2020 making up between 0.6% and 2.75% of her net worth. Similarly, Senator Pat Toomey reported purchasing $1,001 – $15,000 of GBTC in June 2021. The GBTC investment is between 0.01% and 0.7% of his net worth.

The sleuth however concedes that he did not have the time and resources to go through the financial disclosures of all 535 congressional members. Nonetheless, it is telling that of the ones he checked, even members of caucuses in Congress that are affiliated to cryptocurrency and members that have drafted bills that will provide clarity for the industry do not hold Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies as their financial disclosures show.

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Source: https://zycrypto.com/a-deep-dive-into-the-bitcoin-wallets-of-u-s-congress-members-and-why-bitcoiners-are-strongly-against-them/

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China Again? — Why The Crypto Market Lost Over $300 Billion In Hours And What To Expect

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China Reemphasizes It's Not Yet Done With Clamping Down On Bitcoin

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Key takeaways:

  • Crypto-market records over s$1 billion worth of Crypto liquidations in hours. 
  • Liquidated long positions significantly surpass shorts.
  • Fundamental factors pose serious threat to the market, but the road to recovery is near.

The crypto market has been hit with yet another massive liquidation. Within the last 24hrs, a whopping $1.03 billion worth of long and short positions have been liquidated, as reported by the aggregate derivative exchange platform ByBt.

When traders are long on a particular asset, they are simply gaining exposure to the cryptocurrency in question, in hopes that prices will surge significantly at a later time. It appears that a lot of investors were bullish on crypto for the most part, as long positions were significantly higher than shorts. Precisely $946.10 million worth of crypto was liquidated, while $6.56 million short positions were liquidated.

Liquidations usually take place in the crypto market when a trader’s leveraged position is forcefully sealed by an exchange when the trader’s initial margin is partially or totally lost. Futures and margin trading is usually where liquidation is common.

Many market pundits have warned against over-leverage, which they point to as the case of repeated liquidation. However, despite cryptocurrencies being high-risk due to the intense volatility, leveraging provides an opportunity for investors to generate significant profit. For this reason, liquidations are imminent.

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On a larger spectrum, the question at hand is how the market will be affected going forward. Although no one can accurately predict, recent events hint that the dip could go even deeper, no thanks to fundamental factors like the ongoing Evergrande crisis.

“The Hong Kong stock market plummeted, triggering a decline in global markets and cryptocurrencies. The main reason is Evergrande, China’s largest real estate company with nearly 2 trillion debts.” wrote Chinese journalist Colin Wu.

Thus far, leading assets like Bitcoin, Ether, Solana, Cardano, and many others have dropped in price value and are, at this time, still going downwards. Bitcoin has plummeted to $42,928. While losing more than 7% in value today. Ether, XRP, SOL, DOGE, and Cardano are likewise seeing an extensive decline.

In response to the dip, analysts have responded to their previous sentiments on Bitcoin especially, saying that the expected floor price for this month remains at $42,000 and that a bounce will follow a while later. Altcoin analysts are also keeping their fingers crossed to see how the next 24hrs play out before predicting the market’s trajectory.

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Source: https://zycrypto.com/china-again-why-the-crypto-market-lost-over-300-billion-in-hours-and-what-to-expect/

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