Monday, March 16, 2015

How Spies Curate Information

The days of cold-war micro-cameras are over.

Everyone carries a cell phone that can do the job. The cell will have a USB connection for recharging, and that very port can also connect the cell phone to a large-scale storage device or even a computer. It can also store locally on a micro SD card, and the card can easily be exchanged and handed off to a courier. Keeping the card within the cell phone for the shortest possible time means less possibility of detection by an intelligence agency with technical snooping capabilities. Once the micro SD is out of the cell phone, no detection is possible. Your only problem is finding a safe place to make a switch of the micro SD with the target intelligence for a fresh one.

For those with better technology in their spy services, even air-gapped computers aren’t safe from snooping. The Israelis have “smart dust,” which looks like real dust, but can grab the data off a computer and then pirate onto any network and send the information back to the handlers somewhere far away. And, if it’s possible to get to the physical location of the computer, just a few seconds is enough to embed a sniffer into it. This tiny piece of tech copies the hard drive and all the data received or keyed, and transmits it out.

The only question is whether the folks being pilfered have the tech to detect they’ve been buggered. And, that’s why tech keeps changing: it’s a war of constant updates.

Dead drops (a safe place to store the micro SD card until a partner can retrieve it, sometimes referred to as a “slick”) have been replaced by uploads to the draft folder of a web site, or placement into the actual code of an MMORG computer game. Or placement within a .jpg photograph which the spy then uploads onto a Facebook page or sends out via a tweet.

A brave new world of continuous technological change.

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