Former Tunisian Regime Goes Beyond Spying On Internet Traffic... To Rewriting Emails & More

from the they-wrote-what??? dept

Most people instinctively appreciate the dangers of government surveillance. But at least it's possible to be on your guard when you suspect such surveillance may be present by taking care what you write and send. You might even use some industrial-grade encryption for the important stuff.

The problem with that is it's simply not practical to expect all of your contacts – to say nothing of your grandparents – to do the same, which means that at least some of your emails are going to be exchanged in the clear. And as this fascinating Bloomberg report about the surveillance activities of the former Tunisian regime reveals, that creates another kind of vulnerability that concerns not only what you send, but also what you receive:

Asma Hedi Nairi, a former Amnesty International youth coordinator, says e-mails she and her friends exchanged were replaced by messages ranging from random symbols to ads for rental cars. Opponents of the regime toppled in January’s revolution received threatening messages such as “you can run but you can’t hide,” while people with no role in politics found their correspondence snagged if it inadvertently included words flagged as critical of the government. Ammar 404 even damaged reputations by inserting pornographic images in work e- mails and routing intimate photos onto Facebook, Nairi, 23, says.
It's a clever approach, whereby people start to attribute a deep, possibly troubling meaning to what is in fact nonsense, or begin to doubt the trustworthiness of their online contacts.

What makes this story particularly disturbing is that practically all the technology used to carry out this disinformation campaign in Tunisia was provided by Western companies, who seemed to view it as a test run:

Western suppliers used the country as a testing ground. Moez Chakchouk, the post-revolution head of the Tunisian Internet Agency, says he’s discovered that the monitoring industry gave discounts to the government-controlled agency, known by its French acronym ATI, to gain access.
That's yet another reason to resist Net surveillance for any reason (hello, copyright industries): once surveillance equipment manufacturers have their foot in the door it can only be a matter of time before they start extolling the virtues of Tunisia's more thoroughgoing approach to online spying.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 7:01pm

    Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Why anything in Africa should matter to anyone is beyond comprehension. Vital minerals and resources? Wait until one regime or another takes power, and then pay them off to get what you need. If they fall? Pay off the next crop of losers. And on, and on, and on. That's the way things have worked over there forever. Virtually every single one of these festering pest holes has no geopolitical significance, other then raw materials, most of which can be obtained elsewhere in a pinch. Who cares?

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 16th, 2011 @ 7:16pm

    Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    I think the troubling thing to focus on is the fact that western companies were helping them out.

    They seem more than eager to turn this on their own people.

     

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  3.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 10:27pm

    This country sounds like the NBC IT Department.

    Perhaps miss International Coordinator needs to get one of her friends 'who knows computers' to run a anti-virus anti-malware sweep before she starts hurling wild accusations against a bunch of people who probably know even less than she apparently does about computer security.

    But, let's just, as an intellectual exercise, take this hysterical article at face value. I think that it's probably just a courtesy, and she's acting like it's the end of the world.

    For instance, say that the government made it illegal to say that anything negative about certain corporations programming choices after a lobbying effort. Now I'm not a lawyer, I can't possibly know all of the nutty laws they've passed and substances they have made illegal to posses.

    Now what if I in the course of an email, I was to offend one of our new corporate overlords by lamenting the fact that "Discovery"/"Learning"/"Science" Channel's programming is racing to the bottom of the human debris pile with their newest 'educational' program Punkin Chunkin.

    http://science.discovery.com/tv/punkin-chunkin/

    Now the software in this case will identify the violation and simply remove it and send me a warning, thus saving me the embarrassment of breaking the law and going to jail. I think it's quite clever and a great way to market a product internationally. Is Techdirt against small business entrepreneurs now?

     

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  4.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Dec 16th, 2011 @ 10:32pm

    Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Well the problem is that we can't get a lot of these rare earth metals elsewhere in significant enough quantities. Same thing with Oil in the middle east, surrounded by a by a bunch of incoherent nuts wearing drapes and yelling a lot.

    God clearly is quite the huckster, probably laughing it up with his Angel friends all the way to the Gates mansion.

     

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  5.  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 5:20am

    Re: Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    +1
    The World of SOPA/PIPA
    If they pass I am hoping a large wave of real civil disobediance occurs.
    Sorry but my mom told me my whole life you make the bed you sleep in.

     

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  6.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 6:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Part of the Jesus cult mentality is that everything has to have consequences* even if they don't. So for cases where there are none, they set about creating some.

    (*except big banks and CEO's because they create jobs and are doing god's work in other bigger more important ways)

    That's why these nut bags hate the morning after pill.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Wolfy, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 6:22am

    RE: vancedecker... this person's attitude is a clear example of why things are so messed up on this world.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 7:47am

    As an amusing story, maybe 6 out of 10. As a SOPA troll, maybe 1 out of 10. Sorry Glynn, but the more you try to fit into Mike's mold and the more you try to appear the Techdirt crowd, the more you lose your own personal sense of right and wrong.

    Put simply you are slipping.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 8:04am

    Re:

    You find it amusing that Tunisia was used as a testing ground for surveillance technology that will be used against you in the future? Are you mad!?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re:

    Yup, the same way I find Iraq in the past using chemical weapons as a "testing ground for future crowd control at Occupy protests". There is little or no relation between one and the other.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 8:47am

    Re: Re: Re:

    There might be. Have you noticed the increased incidence of inappropriate use of pepper spray by law enforcement agents to control peaceful protesters?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    bjupton (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 9:27am

    Re: This country sounds like the NBC IT Department.

    At least hurling pumpkins can be used as a jumping off point to discuss basic physics.

    Not sure what we are supposed to do with the "History" Channel.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 10:23am

    Re: Re: This country sounds like the NBC IT Department.

    They should rename it the Hitler Channel.

    Look I'm all about Hitler specila, but enough is enough, how many Hitler retrospectives can one channel possibly produce? What about all the other mass murder war mongers, like the Bush family for instance?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    hmm (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 11:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Unless you work in a hotel :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    hmm (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 11:07am

    Re: Re: Re: This country sounds like the NBC IT Department.

    History channel will inevitably run out of Hitler things to say, and will produce a documentary about why there are so many hitler documentaries on the history channel, the universe will come full circle and their TV network will implode.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    hmm (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 11:08am

    Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    human beings with compassion and sentience?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Dec 17th, 2011 @ 11:39am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: This country sounds like the NBC IT Department.

    The Problem with Buddhist Philosophy and Free Market Capitalism, is that you have to wait for these things to happen.

    Given enough time and monkeys, anything could happen, the trick is making it happen now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 11:59am

    Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Are you fucking serious? You know that the cycle you describe, to the extent that it is accurate, is OUR FAULT, and is a direct result of colonialism?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    bigpicture, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Well you might care if Iran develops Nuclear WMDs and also the capability to deliver them on your home town. I think your very self centered opinion and lack of human concern might be effected by that. Either the US will be involved, or Russia, China some other country that does not care about your interests.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Um, I'm only playing devil's advocate, but Iran is in Asia...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 2:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Have you noticed the inappropriate actions of "peaceful protesters" who insist on taking away other people's civil rights, rights to work, etc?

    Nuke'em all, and shoot'em when the glow at night.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    allo, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: This country sounds like the NBC IT Department.

    well said.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    gaetano, Dec 17th, 2011 @ 10:39pm

    Rewriting Emails.

    How charmingly Orwellian!

     

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  24.  
    icon
    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Dec 18th, 2011 @ 7:06am

    Re: Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Sorry, but it is not MY FAULT, so be careful in your use of OUR.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 18th, 2011 @ 9:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Tunisia? Still exists? WTF?

    Drive a car? Got a computer? Frequently use airplane transportation? Are you fat? Play video games? Like exotic fruit? Eat sushi?

    It's your fault. Fuck you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 18th, 2011 @ 10:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ayn Rand apologists should die drowning in their own diarrhea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    aikiwolfie, Dec 19th, 2011 @ 10:16am

    I bet this is giving some American policy writers wet dreams about the possibilities they could inflict on the USA.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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