Tag Archives: GPS

shutterstockFederal prosecutors may introduce cell-site data obtained without a warrant in the retrial of a District of Columbia drug dealer who was the subject of one of the Supreme Court’s biggest electronic privacy decisions in decades.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of the District of Columbia is a victory for prosecutors who are shifting their focus to warrantless cell-tower locational tracking of suspects in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that law enforcement should acquire probable-cause warrants from judges to affix GPS devices to vehicles. (.pdf) Just after the high court’s January decision, the FBI pulled the plug on 3,000 GPS tracking devices.

Huvelle’s ruling came as part of pretrial proceedings in the prosecution of Antoine Jones, the previously convicted drug dealer whose conviction and life sentence was reversed by the Supreme Court, which found the government’s placement of a GPS tracker on his vehicle was an illegal search.

Judge OKs Warrantless Cell-site Data | DFI News.

The London black cab is one of the most iconic images that visitors and residents of the city know very well. Sometimes called by their original name, “hackney carriage”, the high end taxis began as horse drawn carriages in the 1600s. Today, it was revealed that these cabs will have a nice extra feature for those folks who want to get quick Internet access on the go.

Eyetease Media announced that, starting in 2013, they will begin to roll out CabWifi inside all of London‘s black cabs. Passengers will be able to use the free service to access the Internet via a 3G or 4G hotspot. The small catch is that they must view a 15 second ad on their Internet enabled device for every 15 minutes they are in the cab.

How do the cab drivers benefit from this service? Eyetease Media states:

Drivers, with a separate login are also able to benefit from the service and off-set the high cost of data charges incurred from using taxi apps, which some drivers claim have doubled their phone bills in recent months.

We suspect this business model might find its way to other cabs around the world, particularly in New York City, where many cabs already have interactive touch screen displays showing video news and information.

Drivers of a London black cab are famed for their information about the city. Before they receive their cab license, they must all pass a test called The Knowledge. It requires them to figure out the best route to their passenger’s destination, without using a map, a GPS or even asking a supervisor via radio.

London’s black cabs to add free WiFi; makes other cabs jealous.

U.S. government, military to get secure Android phones

A U.S soldier checks his cell phone while on patrol in Iraq in December. Smartphones are first being deployed to soldiers.
A U.S soldier checks his cell phone while on patrol in Iraq in December. Smartphones are first being deployed to soldiers.

  • Government, military officials to get Android phones capable of sharing secret documents
  • The phones will run a modified version of Google’s Android software, sources say
  • Contractor: Google “more cooperative” than Apple working with government on phones

Some U.S. officials this year are expected to get smartphones capable of handling classified government documents over cellular networks, according to people involved in the project.

The phones will run a modified version of Google’s Android software, which is being developed as part of an initiative that spans multiple federal agencies and government contractors, these people said.

The smartphones are first being deployed to U.S. soldiers, people familiar with the project said. Later, federal agencies are expected to get phones for sending and receiving government cables while away from their offices, sources said. Eventually, local governments and corporations could give workers phones with similar software.

The Army has been testing touchscreen devices at U.S. bases for nearly two years, said Michael McCarthy, a director for the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command, in a phone interview. About 40 phones were sent to fighters overseas a year ago, and the Army plans to ship 50 more phones and 75 tablets to soldiers abroad in March, he said.

“We’ve had kind of an accelerated approval process,” McCarthy said. “This is a hugely significant event.”

Currently, the United States doesn’t allow government workers or soldiers to use smartphones for sending classified messages because the devices have not met security certifications.

Officials have said they worry that hackers or rogue apps could tap into the commercial version of Android and spill state secrets to foreign governments or to the Web through a publisher such as WikiLeaks. As many as 5 million Android users may have had their phones compromised by a recent virus outbreak rooted in apps found on Google’s market, said security software maker Symantec.

But with a secure smartphone, a soldier could see fellow infantry on a digital map, or an official could send an important dispatch from Washington’s Metro subway without fear of security breaches.

Developers in the government program have completed a version that has been authorized for storing classified documents but not transmitting them over a cell network, said two people contributing to the initiative. Smartphones cleared for top-secret dispatches — high-level classified information that would compromise national security if intercepted — are expected to be ready in the next few months, they said.

Rather than building special handsets hardwired with secure components, the government plans to install its software on commercially available phones, the people familiar with the project said. This approach is far less expensive and allows the government to stay up to date with the latest phones on the market, they said.

Android vs. Apple

There are hundreds of different Android models available, and more than half of all smartphones sold globally in a recent quarter use Android, according to industry research firm Gartner.

Verizon Wireless has sold more Android phones than any other U.S. cell carrier, thanks in part to its marketing emphasis interest on the Droid brand. About a year ago, Verizon also got the iPhone, ending AT&T’s U.S. exclusivity with that device.

“There’s a lot of interest in Android,” Bryan Schromsky, a Verizon director for its wireless data services, said in a phone interview. “We are seeing Android sales across all branches of government.”

Still, Apple’s iPhone and iPad are also highly desired among U.S. officials, and people involved in the U.S. smartphone program said their goal is to support any type of smartphone. As CNN has reported, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, uses an iPad to read his classified intelligence by downloading cables and disconnecting from the network.

However, the government chose to work on Android first because Google already allows people to tinker freely with its code, said those working on the project. Federal officials have met with Apple, but they were told they could not have access to the core of the company’s mobile operating system, said Angelos Stavrou, an information-security director at George Mason University who is working on the government project as a contractor, in a phone interview.

“Android was more cooperative in supporting some of the capabilities that we wanted to support in the operating system, whereas Apple was more averse,” Stavrou told CNN. “They’re shifting the strategy now.”

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on the meeting or any changes to its strategy.

Google publishes the source code for Android on its website for anyone to download and modify, and some partners are given access to the code before others. A Google spokesman declined to comment on the government project.

When Google releases a new version of Android or when a new version of its phones comes out, a compatible software update to the government’s secure Android can be ready within two weeks, Stavrou said.

Emphasis on security

Government programmers are making security modifications to Android’s kernel, which is the operating system’s central component, the people involved said. The version will allow users to choose which data from Android and its applications can be sent over the Internet, they said.

“When you download an application on your phone, you don’t really know what it does,” Stavrou said. “We test the application in labs before the user consumes that application.”

After testing more than 200,000 apps, the researchers discovered that many programs ask for access to far more personal information contained in the phone than they need and, more alarmingly, send some of that superfluous data to the app developers’ servers, Stavrou said.

Even some well-intentioned features can compromise national security if left unchecked. For example, a weather app may automatically send a phone’s GPS coordinates over the Internet to deliver a local forecast, or games may send the device’s unique identifier along with a high score.

On government phones, officials will be prompted with detailed reports about what data may be sent, and they can decline or allow each transmission, the people involved said.

“People want to play ‘Angry Birds,’ and we do want our people to be able to download ‘Angry Birds,’ ” Stavrou said. But he added, “If a clock application gets your GPS and transmits something over the network, that’s not something that we would want to support.”

Stavrou, along with seven others at George Mason and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, are developing the smartphone software. They are also consulting with several federal agencies, many within the Department of Defense, he said. He declined to name them.

“The government is actually working pretty hard in getting this technology to most agencies,” Stavrou said. “Security is everybody’s concern.”

A secret project

Officials have not spoken in depth about the project until now.Reuters and some trade publications, including Government Computer News and FedTech Magazine, have previously reported some details.

“We are very cautious about what we release to the public,” Stavrou said. “The details of the technology have been something that we have not publicly disclosed.”

The project is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the group responsible for early development of GPS and the Internet, Stavrou said. The Defense Department, which houses the agency, has designated the smartphone project as a priority, he said.

The National Security Agency has been designated with evaluating the smartphone software for certification, Stavrou said. The NSA gave approval for an earlier version of the system to handle classified data stored on a device, he said.

The NSA is also working on a competing system called SE Android, or Security Enhanced Android, Stephen Smalley, a National Security Agency official, wrote this month in a brief e-mail to a group of software developers that was obtained by CNN. SE Android is less flexible in supporting new devices or Android updates from Google and is unlikely to be deployed widely, Stavrou said.

An NSA spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail, “The ultimate goal is to give war fighters, analysts and other intelligence professionals access to classified information on the go — boosting innovation in the field, efficiency and productivity.”

In an unusual move for the federal government, each version of the secure Android operating systems will only need to be certified once before it can be deployed to any U.S. agency, said two people involved in the project. Typically, each agency does its own independent security testing, they said.

Also atypical is that the NSA published the source code for SE Android online. The same will be done with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-funded project. Standardization group OpenSSL Software Foundation is helping with security compliance, said Steve Marquess, a co-founder for the company.

The NSA’s Smalley announced the first release of SE Android with a two-sentence message two-sentence message on January 6 to a developer mailing list. He concluded by saying, “Enjoy!”

“We had to go through many hoops for that to happen,” Stavrou said of the plan to open-source the software. “By handing the source code out, other people will be able to take a look and tell us about bugs.”

Private interest

Many companies have expressed interest in the government smartphone project, officials said. The corporations that were among the first to adopt the BlackBerry are interested in Android, said Verizon’s Schromsky. The Apple spokeswoman also noted that nearly all Fortune 500 companies are testing or have employees using iPhones and iPads.

Another obstacle for the government will be to figure out how to secure voice calls, Schromsky said.

“Voice is the immediate need,” Schromsky said. “These devices are awesome. They can do so many things, but at the end of the day, I still need to make a voice call.”

After the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project is certified for classified data, developers plan to work on securing the Android system for voice-over IP communications using apps such as Skype, Stavrou said.

U.S. government, military to get secure Android phones – CNN.com.

Hacker Station

Computer hackers plan to take the internet beyond the reach of censors by putting their own communication satellites into orbit.

The scheme was outlined at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin.

The project’s organisers said the Hackerspace Global Grid will also involve developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites.

Longer term they hope to help put an amateur astronaut on the moon.

Hobbyists have already put a few small satellites into orbit – usually only for brief periods of time – but tracking the devices has proved difficult for low-budget projects.

The hacker activist Nick Farr first put out calls for people to contribute to the project in August. He said that the increasing threat of internet censorship had motivated the project.

“The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let’s take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities,” Mr Farr said.

Beyond balloons

He cited the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in the United States as an example of the kind of threat facing online freedom. If passed, the act would allow for some sites to be blocked on copyright grounds.

Whereas past space missions have almost all been the preserve of national agencies and large companies, amateur enthusiasts have in recent years sent a few payloads into orbit.

“This [hacker] community can put humanity back in space in a meaningful way”

Nick FarrHackerspace Global Grid project

These devices have mostly been sent up using balloons and are tricky to pinpoint precisely from the ground.

According to Armin Bauer, a 26-year-old enthusiast from Stuttgart who is working on the Hackerspace Global Grid, this is largely due to lack of funding.

“Professionals can track satellites from ground stations, but usually they don’t have to because, if you pay a large sum [to send the satellite up on a rocket], they put it in an exact place,” Mr Bauer said.

In the long run, a wider hacker aerospace project aims to put an amateur astronaut onto the moon within the next 23 years.

“It is very ambitious so we said let’s try something smaller first,” Mr Bauer added.

Ground network

The Berlin conference was the latest meeting held by the Chaos Computer Club, a decades-old German hacker group that has proven influential not only for those interested in exploiting or improving computer security, but also for people who enjoy tinkering with hardware and software.

When Mr Farr called for contributions to Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and others decided to concentrate on the communications infrastructure aspect of the scheme.

Armin Bauer
Mr Bauer says the satellites could help provide communications to help put an amateur into space

He and his teammates are working on their part of the project together with Constellation, an existing German aerospace research initiative that mostly consists of interlinked student projects.

In the open-source spirit of Hackerspace, Mr Bauer and some friends came up with the idea of a distributed network of low-cost ground stations that can be bought or built by individuals.

Used together in a global network, these stations would be able to pinpoint satellites at any given time, while also making it easier and more reliable for fast-moving satellites to send data back to earth.

“It’s kind of a reverse GPS,” Mr Bauer said.

“GPS uses satellites to calculate where we are, and this tells us where the satellites are. We would use GPS co-ordinates but also improve on them by using fixed sites in precisely-known locations.”

Mr Bauer said the team would have three prototype ground stations in place in the first half of 2012, and hoped to give away some working models at the next Chaos Communication Congress in a year’s time.

They would also sell the devices on a non-profit basis.

“We’re aiming for 100 euros (£84) per ground station. That is the amount people tell us they would be willing to spend,” Mr Bauer added.


Experts say the satellite project is feasible, but could be restricted by technical limitations.

“Low earth orbit satellites such as have been launched by amateurs so far, do not stay in a single place but rather orbit, typically every 90 minutes,” said Prof Alan Woodward from the computing department at the University of Surrey.

“Any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites”

Prof Alan WoodwardSurrey University

“That’s not to say they can’t be used for communications but obviously only for the relatively brief periods that they are in your view. It’s difficult to see how such satellites could be used as a viable communications grid other than in bursts, even if there were a significant number in your constellation.”

This problem could be avoided if the hackers managed to put their satellites into geostationary orbits above the equator. This would allow them to match the earth’s movement and appear to be motionless when viewed from the ground. However, this would pose a different problem.

“It means that they are so far from earth that there is an appreciable delay on any signal, which can interfere with certain Internet applications,” Prof Woodward said.

“There is also an interesting legal dimension in that outer space is not governed by the countries over which it floats. So, theoretically it could be a place for illegal communication to thrive. However, the corollary is that any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites.”

Need for knowledge

Apart from the ground station scheme, other aspects of the Hackerspace project that are being worked on include the development of new electronics that can survive in space, and the launch vehicles that can get them there in the first place.

Engineers prepare a geostationary communications satellite at Baikonur Cosmodrome
Until now launching communications satellites has proved to be too expensive for amateur groups

According to Mr Farr, the “only motive” of the Hackerspace Global Grid is knowledge.

He said many participants are frustrated that no person has been sent past low Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

“This [hacker] community can put humanity back in space in a meaningful way,” Farr said.

“The goal is to get back to where we were in the 1970s. Hackers find it offensive that we’ve had the technology since before many of us were born and we haven’t gone back.”

Asked whether some might see negative security implications in the idea of establishing a hacker presence in space, Farr said the only downside would be that “people might not be able to censor your internet”.

“Hackers are about open information,” Farr added. “We believe communication is a human right.”

BBC News – Hackers plan space satellites to combat censorship.