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The Cross of Bethlehem

The Cross of Bethlehem II

On Iran, Skype and a Fallen Prince

Human Right Systematic Violations by Western Democracies

 

 

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Secure Communications

Secure Communications | Not a Dream

How secure are our communications? Can we be sure Qwest is not listening to them? Why do western countries systematically violate the Right to Privacy clearly stated in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by all of them?

Skype

In recent years, communications over the internet are rapidly replacing the phone system. Skype became one of the main providers of VOIP (Voice over IP) communications and enjoys a reputation of being quite secure since it uses its own encryption protocol. Yet, Kurt Sauer, Chief Security Officer of Skype, refused in the past to say if the company can listen or not. In 2008, officials at the Austrian interior ministry said that they could listen in on Skype conversations without problem.

Yet, before I’ll touch the problem at its basic level, I would like to illustrate another side of the problem: the infiltration of state agents into these companies and the consequences of that.

Fallen Prince

In November 2009, my Skype account was blocked. Several phone calls were stolen and when I complained to the company they told me they can’t refund me and blocked the account “to prevent further thefts.” In the subsequent weeks I dealt with the issue. They kept apologizing for their slowness. I didn’t care too much since I seldom make phone calls – especially since listeners sit next to me in the internet kiosks and openly place recording devices on the table.

In late December, I published “On an Israeli Art Student” and things changed. In the first days of January a friend sent me an email urging for a phone call. “After I’ll get my account back” was my answer. “Call me later today, it is urgent!” he added. Annoyed, I found my Skype account was given back at the same time the email was sent, though without a refund. I wasn’t even planning to check that out, they just sent an email. Something was wrong, someone was pulling strings within Skype.

Minutes later, I was chatting with my friend. Without giving identifying details, I’ll just say he depend economically on his relatives; one of them is a very influential American. He began talking about the article claiming he was surprised about my choice of that chapter from The Cross of Bethlehem for the online promotion. I was even more surprised about his comment. “What’s the problem?” I answered.

"Arik is furious."

How do you know that?

He claimed having be contacted by his relatives and threatened to be cut his allowance if he didn’t cooperate by making this call to me. Then he informed me that Arik’s website was taken off-line. I checked out that immediately and found this information correct. It was clear his claim of being blackmailed by people cooperating with Israel was true. It was also clear that Skype was collaborating with the American politician and the security services.

Iran

One of my readers contacted me recently. After a few emails, I was offered to move to a supposedly secure email system using a zillion-bit encryption. I agreed, and proved to both of us that the security systems were capable of breaking the encryption (or that hidden key loggers are installed in public computers). Simply, I mentioned the name of the American politician who was working for Arik Prince of Mossad or his accomplices. In answer, I got a silent threat of the type that if reported to the authorities would get the answer of being only “circumstantial evidence.”

I won’t go into a full analysis of the topic here. Readers wishing to learn more, are invited to read the excellent book “The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots to Quantum Cryptography” by Simon Singh. Mr. Singh was careful in certain places, but the emerging picture is clear: every encryption system can be broken if enough time is provided. The reason is that they rely on a constant and unchanging logic. If necessary, the logic can be deciphered by brute force approaches, meaning by checking out all possible options. Lengthy and costly, but possible.

What cannot be broken are good codes – that is unless one of the sides speaks out. On February 26, 2010, an extraordinary article appeared in the New York Times. The article is named “Another Puzzle After Iran Moves Nuclear Fuel.” I could summarize the thesis of the authors simply as “I don’t know,” which is an amazing one for an article published in one of planet’s most circulated newspapers.

I already performed a more careful analysis of the article; the points relevant to the secure communications issue touched here is that the article asks for information regarding certain issue and then provides a list of the possible answers. It is clear than nobody in the west can answer. Thus it seems the article is aimed for someone in Iran that may be able to answer; someone with access to the New York Times in Tehran. The list cannot be very large.

How is that related to this article? We can see here a wonderful example of an open and secure communications protocol based on a code. The person at the other side needs to answer just one number – the number of the correct option as per the codification list offered by the open source article. The safe transfer of one number – or letter – is not very difficult.

Should you use your phone or Skype? It doesn’t matter, both are not secure unless you codify all the sensitive information passed over the line.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promises privacy; we demand it.

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