My appearance in 1996Wayne Stegall


Copyright 2012 by Wayne Stegall
Created January 19, 2012.  See Document History at end for details.

Caught in a Web

Covert Manipulation of the Internet


As a consequence of business relations with China, Nortel installed a new technological machine
some years ago enabling greater state control of China's people.  Everywhere they go now, the Chinese people are, more than ever, always watched, listened to, or tracked by their government.  Public video cameras, automatic.voice recognition search by means of telephone surveillance, selective internet censorship, and other devices monitor them in every conceivable way.1  All likely unknown to them.  All courtesy of readily available Western technology.

Can it happen here?  Many believe that everyone's rights are subject to abuse under the guise of national security.

Consider Mark Klein, an AT&T whistleblower who alleges that NSA built secret rooms in 2003 in telephone central offices in various locations country-wide and equipped them with spy machines intercepting internet traffic.2  He drew this conclusion when he investigated the contents of a secret room he observed built in the San Francisco central office in which he worked as a technician.  Under the Patriot Act these facilities would use the internet to get intelligence to track possible terrorism.  The room was primarily filled with ordinary telecommunications equipment which routed internet traffic to the primary spy machine, a Narus STA6400 Semantic Traffic Analyzer.   When I last looked the STA6400 was missing from their catalog of equipment enabling easy law enforcement telephone intercepts, perhaps indicating its status as covert technology.  As the word semantic, meaning "of or relating to meaning in language," indicates this machine reads the data in the passing internet packet stream to determine how to respond to it.  This system, comprised of powerful Sun workstations equipped with 10Gbps ethernet and proprietary software, is cleverly employed to gather intelligence, and is also likely the only device that could have enabled China's Nortel machine to create selective internet censorship for their people.  What is to keep it from being used this way here?  Perhaps only the connection of outgoing lines and reconfiguration of its software and it would be censoring the internet content passing through American telephone central offices rather than only reading it.

Even a description of the analyzer's more mundane applications make your life a public stage:3

Rather, it's a powerful commercial network-analysis product with all sorts of valuable uses for network operators. It just happens to be capable of doing things that make it one of the best internet spy tools around.

"Anything that comes through (an internet protocol network), we can record," says Steve Bannerman, marketing vice president of Narus, a Mountain View, California, company. "We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their (voice over internet protocol) calls."

Narus' product, the Semantic Traffic Analyzer, is a software application that runs on standard IBM or Dell servers using the Linux operating system. It's renowned within certain circles for its ability to inspect traffic in real time on high-bandwidth pipes, identifying packets of interest as they race by at up to 10 Gbps.

Internet companies can install the analyzers at every entrance and exit point of their networks, at their "cores" or centers, or both. The analyzers communicate with centralized "logic servers" running specialized applications. The combination can keep track of, analyze and record nearly every form of internet communication, whether e-mail, instant message, video streams or VOIP phone calls that cross the network.

In the context of such powerful and selective censorship technology, you could imagine its use against political dissenters or other targets.  They could be slandered for political purposes then selectively blocked from discovering the violation.  If they had a web site, its view to the public could be altered, yet seen correctly by anyone who might prosecute such a crime.  Some time ago, I visited the website of Eleanor White, someone who claims to be a target.  Her website was intercepted by a page warning that the site might contain malware, a claim that could be bogus and only a means of censorship.  The planting of actual malware could have been the form of censorship, one outside the scope of this article.  Who really knows?  Only imagination would limit the sort of persecution that could be perpetrated by these means.  Make no mistake, this is serious police state technology.

While I am writing this article, the U.S. Congress is advancing legislation that would censor the internet to protect intellectual property.  SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) may only try to do that, but the pretext would be there to go further and do undemocratic things.  The internet contains so much intellectual property as to create innumerable pretexts for improper censorship.  A picture given you to publish by a friend could create a pretext to shut your web presence off on the basis of protecting his copyright to his property.  Even the presence of legal censorship may give cover and subterfuge to that which is not.  Who could discriminate the presence of the illegal in a sea of legal activity of the same type.

Stop unnecessary technological threats to our rights!



1Greg Walton, "China's Golden Shield:  Corporations and the Development of Surveillance Technology in the People's Republic of China," October 2001, Rights & Democracy, The International Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. www.dd-rd.ca, link.
2
"Whistle-Blower's Evidence, Uncut," May 22, 2006, WIRED News, www.wired.com, link.
3Robert Poe, "The Ultimate Net Monitoring Tool," May 17, 2006, WIRED News, www.wired.com, link.

Document History
January 19, 2012  Created.
January 19, 2012  Added new content and corrected some grammar.