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View Diary: An NSA-proof operating system. Yes, for real. (171 comments)

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  •  There's no such thing as "locking down" an OS -- (2+ / 0-)
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    sviscusi, J M F

    at least in absolute terms.  And there's no such thing as an OS that you can rely on to do the work of making yourself secure.

    And it's very dangerous to make blanket assumptions about what our friends in No Such Agency can or cannot do.

    This is not to say that the NSA's powers are unlimited, or magical.   It's just that there's a big difference between devising a system that you can't figure out how to break yourself, and devising a system nobody can figure out how to break.  That includes really smart people who now what they're doing.  Look at the mathematical geniuses who devised the German Enigma system.

    I'm not saying that security by isolation isn't a good idea -- or that using different (and sometimes disposable) virtual machines aren't a good idea.  I'm just saying that the mindset of "If I use X, I will be absolutely safe" is a dangerous one.  It leads to sloppy thinking (e.g., "Well, the system is very secure, so I can probably get away with doing something a bit carelessly this one time). But even if your usage of the system is exemplary, you shouldn't trust it too much, especially if you have reason to think you're being watched by a hostile and capable adversary. It's like the famously corrupt Boston politician James Michael Curley used to say: "Never write when you can speak; never speak when you can nod."

    It's dangerous to think in absolutes about security. You have to look at a security measure relative to two things: the value of the asset you are protecting and the determination and capabilities of whomever you expect is trying to obtain access to that asset.  The NSA if it is interested enough in you has the capability to buglarize your house and bug it, probably to install key loggers on your computers too, if they have enough motivation.  They can trivially obtain your credit card records because it's for commercial sale here in the US, and the very bright people they have there can figure out a lot about you.  If they have your phone and messaging metadata they can model your social graph and figure out who you associate with, even indirectly. That's undergraduate level computer science, and it probably had a lot more to do with tracking down Osama than waterboarding.

    The upshot is that the most important way of keeping the NSA in line is through our elected officials -- if we can force ourselves to pay attention. The whole Snowden affair shows how easy it is to give an agency like the NSA more power than we think we're giving them.

    The average person should just take reasonable and sensible precautions, the most important of which is to never do anything on-line if it would be a disaster if certain people found out about it -- "secure" systems notwithstanding. Common sense is called for not paranoia. If you have specific and credible reasons to believe you are the target of a capable and motivated adversary, you should educate yourself on information security and restrict your activities to a degree that would be paranoid for most people.  You probably want to procure the services of someone who really knows what he is doing, because unless you're an expert you don't have much of a chance against motivated experts.

    I've lost my faith in nihilism

    by grumpynerd on Sat Jul 13, 2013 at 10:15:02 AM PDT

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