Can the NSA track you on your prepay mobile?


The recent news about PRISM and NSA surveillance on people based on their Internet usage and mobile usage is fascinating. The concept of being able to monitor people’s activity based on their mobile is nothing new, although of course we all thought that it would only happen under a warrant, or in emergency circumstances such as when someone makes a 911 call or perhaps in a SAR emergency.

USA 162Commercial vehicles are being tracked as a normal process, in some cases to ensure staff are working, but more commonly for more practical purposes, such as driver behaviour and safety, making sure that refrigerated trailers maintain correct temperatures and in countries like New Zealand to allow diesel truck operators to claim Road User Charge rebates when they are not driving on public roads, which can save businesses a truck load of money if you will pardon the pun.

As a fan of TV programs like Person of Interest and 24, which I hear is making a comeback, I often wonder why it seems so hard to track criminals, but if you follow my blogs and tweets you will see that more and more criminals are being caught, especially after stealing iPhones or other devices containing GPS and communications. I love those stories.

So, to the question of this blog. What we know is that government agencies (and businesses with their clients’ approval, such as finance and insurance companies) are tracking people and monitoring their behaviour. By monitoring Big Data about the location of people’s mobiles, algorithms can identify information such as where people live, work and play. They can identify associations with other people through this same data. For example if you monitor a person and establish their home (where their mobile is most nights of the year) and identify other mobile devices that are also at that location during most nights of the year, then you can identify that they also probably reside at that location.

If those people were criminal suspects of any kind, you could thereby potential make some assumptions that those people might also be criminals. This would be very useful, not only with terrorists, which we thought were the prime reason for being able to spy on people, but also gangs, drug dealers and manufacturers and more. I guess part of the issue there is whether this evidence is admissible in a court of law. But again I digress.

If you are able to monitor mobile phone radio connections using GPS or less accurate technologies and identify unknown devices such as prepaid mobiles that frequently appear at the same locations as known devices, that would suggest that you could infer the identity or characteristics of a user. If, for example, a person had a mobile for normal use and an anonymous prepaid mobile for more nefarious purposes and they were carried around together, you could infer that the user was the same person.

This could mean that effectively the use of a prepaid mobile, being used for the purposes of criminal activity, on the basis of its implied anonymity, could be fatally flawed. Not a bad thing in my opinion. The problem is more in the assumption that a governmental agency has the right to spy on its citizens without recourse and without obtaining a warrant from a court first, a bit like apologising after the event.

I am all for keeping law abiding citizens safe, but there should be transparency on how that is done, especially in countries that we consider to be enlightened democracies. Anyway, the answer to the question in my opinion is that using a prepaid mobile will not by default prevent you from being tracked or identified if an agency has the power to track radio devices. the technology is certainly easy to access.

The Internet as a battlefield


I’ve been trying to work on this post for ages, but never seem to get it finished. The more I think about it, the more tangents I head in, so here’s a start anyway. Maybe you can add a comment to the thread.

When we, Joe Citizen think of warfare, the common picture is either soldiers, tanks and planes, or more recently terrorist attacks. Information warfare is not a topic that we think of very often.

Of course using media such as radio, print and TV have been used for decades to provide disinformation, but now that we have the Internet, there is potential for a new front that could cripple economies and cause massive disruption to life as we know it.

Last month 14 Virgin Blue flights were cancelled in Melbourne when a broken cable disrupted their computer systems, stranding thousands of passengers. A total of 48 domestic flights were cancelled as a follow on of this problem.

Periodically there are major EFTPOS failures, which can happen at the worst possible times. For example in 2005 the EFTPOS network in New Zealand broke down for 2 hours on 23rd December. The estimate was that around half a million transactions were lost on one of the busiest days for retailers in the year. Millions of dollars in transactions were lost because people don’t really carry cash any more.

In November last year Brazil and some of Venezuela lost their power. Nine of Brazil’s states were out of power, representing millions of people. Whilst many complained they couldn’t watch their favorite soap opera, traffic lights were not working, trains weren’t running and parts of the country pretty much ground to a halt.

If a country or a terrorist organisation wanted to cause chaos or in some way to a country or city in the modern world, it would be incredibly easy. In Holland a guy called Max Cornelisse has created chaos and recorded it on YouTube to show how easy it is to disrupt services we take for granted. Amongst other things he has meddled with electronic signs on freeways, opened and closed bridges over canals from his PDA, sent people running from one platform to another by controlling automated PA messages at railway stations and in this YouTube Video he controlled the autoprompter at a Dutch TV station causing confusion to the newsreaders on live TV. Unfortunately it is in Dutch, but you’ll get the idea.

This is just a guy having a little fun, but what could you do if you seriously wanted to disrupt a country or city. What chaos would you create simply by shutting down the Internet. How would your business function without the Internet? How would your community function without the Internet? Imagine no email, no Voice over IP, no web browsing, no IM, no Facebook or Twitter? No online share trading. No banking, no EFTPOS, no ATM’s and who carries cash?

That’s just for starters. I wonder how long it would take for a major city, like New York, London or Amsterdam to fall into chaos? What would happen after a day, a week, even longer?

Last week there was a story on NPR about cyber terrorism. It quoted USA Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blaire saying that “Every single day, Blair said, sensitive information is “stolen from both government and private sector networks” as criminals become increasingly more sophisticated.”

Interestingly on 16 February 2010 an event will take place in a simulated Whitehouse Situation Room which is scripted to emulate a cyber terrorist attack. Those taking part will include former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponter and former Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend, who will have to work out how to deal with it as it plays out.

This has happened shortly “after the House overwhelmingly passed The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act. Something that gives the Obama administration the power to switch off the Internet,” according to Techeye. For more on the Act, check here.

Just as a final thought for now. If you know how to defend against an attack, you also know how to initiate one. I’m not for a moment suggesting any Western power would do that, but given the right circumstances…….

I am very happy to be living in New Zealand in that respect. Although we have allowed ourselves to become very dependant on our friends and allies, not even able to fully feed ourselves if we bacame isolated.

On terrorists and airport security


I was listening to News Talk ZB talkback radio as I got out of the shower this morning. Those who weren’t complaining about ice cream’s for sale at Cathedral Cove (you would think there were more important things on people’s minds), were talking about the latest security measures as a consequence of the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit,

Al-Qaeda have since claimed responsibility for this attempt.

One guy said that they should convict and hang the terrorists within a week of catching them. Didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me, after all the guy was trying to kill himself wasn’t he? Killing this person would only complete part of his goal and help to make him a martyr and this give him access to his 72 virgins or houri.

I don’t really want to dwell on those self-claimed ‘representitives’ of Islam, who are intent on bringing down the US, during a time of Christian celebration. I don’t for a moment believe that they are representative of Muslim people.

What this reminded me of, was a flight I made from Munich to San Francisco earlier this year, which I blogged about previously. There were many Muslim people on the plane, some of whom seemed to have a real disdain towards the European people on the plane. One man got up and started distributing copies of the Koran to fellow Muslim passengers. This was during the night on a long flight and I had just finished watching the movie Traitor on my laptop and the whole atmosphere was very creepy.

The reason I raise this is that renewed terrorist activity has caused major delays at airports around the world, where security levels has been lifted and are causing major inconvenience for passengers travelling to the US. Security measures are easing again, according to the NY Times, which is great, but the effect of all this could cause racial tensions to rise. This has the potential to play right into the hands of terrorist organisations. Their goal has to be causing terror, not necessarily by killing people.

A side effect of this will be a backlash against Muslim people in general. Because aspects of their faith, such as their clothing and burqa in particular are considered threatening to westerners and some see them as being demeaning of women’s rights, particularly as they perceive that many women in the Middle East do not have the same rights and freedoms as they would in the western world. Interestingly some Muslim women who live in the west also want the burqa banned in those countries.

It is great to know that their are organisations like Muslims Against Terrorism, but it would be great if there were more opportunities for people to understand a bit more about the people themselves, especially those who move to the west. It doesn’t help when people immigrate to other countries but want to take their customs and practices with them, such as the wearing of burqa and niqab.

In western countries, we like to see people’s faces as a measure of their honesty and people who cover their faces are often interpreted as people with something to hide. Many people came to countries such as New Zealand to get away from persecution or discrimination about their beliefs. People like to feel that others in their community are like them. New Zealand is big on human rights and political correctness and as the first country in the world to give women the vote, women’s rights are considered inviolate.

People who are different threaten the lifestyle of people in this society, just as westerners look out of place in other countries.

I don’t know what the answer is. All I know is that differences can be both threatening and interesting. Historically wars were about religious beliefs and about the haves and the have-nots. Combine those two, such as when the oil rich nations deplete their resources, or when poor countries need to rally their people into a nationalistic fervour to keep them from thinking to much about wanting to leave their countries to go somewhere where they perceive a better lifestyle and you have a tinder box in the making.

I consider myself a very easy going person. I was born in Holland, came to NZ, went back to school in Holland and made my home in NZ. I love world cultures, languages, food and the mix of ethnicities that make up our country. Yet, hopping on a long night flight full of people in traditional Muslim dress, with a man handing out copies of the Koran to strangers on the flight, speaking a foreign language, while studiously ignoring the ‘infidels’ made me feel very uncomfortable.

Add to that a continued threat of terrorism and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of violent situations on international aircraft, based on a perceived threat, which may be caused by as simple a situation as I found myself in. Given that non Muslim people are not highly motivated to make dialogue with Muslim people in their community, I think the Muslim people need to open doors in their community. A classic example was the goodwill generated when the Aisha Mosque in Wallsall opened their doors to the local community. Comments from local non Muslim people were very favourable.

I hope more Muslim communities will not take the lead and open their doors and their arms in fellowship and help to break down the barriers. But I also believe that if they want to live in the West, they should also liberalise some of their practices, particularly when out in public. This doesn’t mean turning their backs on their culture and history, just making an effort to not appear so different in public. Islam Open Days are another good way for people to learn more about beliefs and lifestyles and perhaps reduce some of the fears, but of course most of the people who go to them already have an affinity towards them. The challenge is to bring in the rest.

This is of course just my opnion and I welcome you to comment and share yours.

Could Swine Flu Be Man Made?


I have to start by saying I don’t think it was, but it is a ligitimate question, given that bioviolence is something that many countries around the world will be considering and it is an obvious threat from terrorists. We don’t hear anything about the neutron bomb these days, but the concept of killing off people but leaving the environment intact, is not new.

Several years ago I was helping a water authority with mobile data communications around the same time as a meeting of world leaders . Even though bioterrorism has not been seen in this country, there were was hightened vigilence of the city’s water reservoirs, to ensure that they were not deliberately contaminated as a protest against the international meeting.

You would have to have your head in the sand to not consider the act of unleashing a virus as a possible act of warfare and in order to run tests to assess the viability of such an exercise, it would seem that the best way to test whether this is possible, would be to try it on humans.

Swine Flu has so far only been highly contagious in one city of the world. Most of the deaths occured in Mexico or a small number of people who had been to Mexico City. If you were running tests, you would of course not want your tests to accidentaly kill off a large percentage of the human race, you would want it to be in  controlled environment, particularly one where your countries citizens were a vast minority.

It is common public knowledge that the US military does research into infectus diseases and according to The Frederick News, Fort Meade is investigating the possibility of missing virus samples fromthe U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to consider wht the Army would have such an Institute. You could ligitimately suggest that they need this in case other countries or terrorist groups decide to engage in bio-warfare and of course in order to understand how to defend against such attacks you would of course have to know how to create the viruses.

The web is littered with sites like Freedom Watch saying that since 9/11 the US has been preparing for further terrorist attacks and that biological warfare would make a lot of sense. Many of these sites appear to be from civil liberty organisations and while many of them are based on reasonable foundations, there are obviously many that appear on the redneck fringe.

Nevertheless, this type of warfare of sorts has been documented for thousands of years, with the first known use of biotics was from 1500 – 1200 BC where Hittite texts suggested the use of ergot being used to deliberately contaminate water wells. Ergot was the same hallucinatory that is said to have been the foundation of the Salem witch trials, where the rye was contaminated causing LSD like hallucinations. So the concept is nothing new.

I spent quite a lot of time looking for any credible authority that suggests that there is any credibility to this possibility, but they all seem to quote Freedom Watch and similar sites as their source.

So was Swine Flu N1H1 man made? I doubt it. Is it possible, of course. Could a virus like this be mutated and used by terrorists or foreign governments as a military weapon, absolutely.

So back to the future. According to NZ Herald, the current list is now over 6,600 people in 33 countries, including over 70 deaths. The media in the US keeps saying they aren’t seriously concerned at the moment because summer is coming and the bacteria doesn’t survive for long in warm temperatures. Of course in New Zealand we are now heading into the flu season and there are currently around 400 people in isolation as I write this blog. A bit different to the bird flu we were worried about.

In one of my next blogs I will see what I can find out about the 2nd wave. Traditionally these sorts of viruses come back again in waves with the waves often having mutated and being far more virulent than the first and this is one of the problems for the makers of Tamiflu, because the antivirus they make now in massive quantities, might be powerless against the next wave of the bug. Will the 2nd wave start down under, or will it come in 4-5 months on the Amercian continent. Will we be ready for it?

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

For the last word, lets look inside a Mexican Swine Flu Isolation Ward.

The Swine Flu isn’t going away any time soon


So the story continues. It seems a long time ago (Monday of this week!) when I asked the question, Is the Swine Flu going to be a pandemic? Well on level 4 indicating a significant increased risk of a pandemic, a global outbreak of a serious disease.  It isn’t yet a Pandemic, but it doesn’t show any signs of abating. As it appears that secondary transmission of human to human may now be occurring, a Reuters story says that they may soon raise to Level 5.

Another Reuters story also mentions that many countries have imposed a ban on US pork imports, this could lead to similar bans on pork exports from all countries where Swine Flu has been confirmed. This is despite WHO announcing that you can not catch A/N1H1  Swine Flu from eating pork, and in fact there is no evidence of pigs in Mexico or the USA being sick. There is conjecture that they may have captured the virus from Asian birds, possibly imported into Mexico, but the mystery is if the pigs aren’t sick, how is it that humans have caught it from them. It’s no wonder that conspiracy theories abound, while we have no real answers. A team of WHO specialists are now in Mexico trying to unravel this mystery.

On Tuesday I commented that Swine Flu is a bit close to home as New Zealand is one of the early significant areas where Swine Flu was strongly suspected to exist. This was confirmed yesterday and 360 odd passengers on Air New Zealand Flight 1 from Los Angeles were asked to quarantine themselves.

On Wednesday I blogged about how to get Swine Flu and within 24 hours most large corporates had emailed their staff with instructions about personal hygiene and how to minimise the risk of infection. Whether people are concerned or not is difficult to gauge and I suspect a lot of people are still thinking, this wil never happen to me. Despite this 2 hours ago the number of confirmed infected was increased to 14 and the suspect list includes an additional 56  people according to New Zealand’s TV3 News.

According to the Google Swine Flu Map the Kiwi’s affected are spread from Auckland in the North Island to Otago deep into the South Island. They of course had to use confined public transport to get there, so it is likely they may have spread the virus further.

One question I have is why have people died in Mexico but not in other countries. It also seems that the symptoms have been worse for people in Mexico. One theory is that it is attenuating as it spreads from one person to the other and weakening in the process. This could explain why the people in Mexico, including expats, have suffered far more than people in other countries, although this ios contraindicated by the fact that most if not all of those in New Zealand contracted the virus whilst personally in Mexico. There have been a very small number of people suspected to have Swine Flu who had not been to Mexico, but had been on flights together with people who have been confirmed as having Swine Flu. I have yet to hear of anyone who has been confirmed with the virus who were noton a flight with people who had been to Mexico or hadn’t been to Mexico themselves.

There are still some unsolved mysteries and it is the secondary nature of the spread of this virus that holds the greatest risk of a pandemic.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

And please do leave a comment!

Swine Flu Is a Bit Close to Home


Yesterday I posted a blog about Swine Flu, this is an interesting situation which will be at the forefront of many people’s minds for some time to come.

We live in interesting times. It seems analogous to the way banks have behaved since the ’89 meltdown when they said they would never be as free with their lending again, such as 100% mortgage loans. we relaxed after the Bird Flu fizzled out, but now we have a new strain N1H1 which apparently comes from pigs but is related to the bird flu. Whilst it appears that Tamiflu has a positive effect on this, there are of course no vaccines because it is new.

It was interesting to read in the NZ Herald this morning that Air New Zealand was saying that their aircraft are safe for fellow passengers because filters in the aircraft’s air conditioning system filter 99.9% of airborne viruses. Funny then how so many of us who travel on long haul flights end up coming down with some sort of virus within a short period of time after a flight.

Of course these filters require that you sneeze into them. A lot of people look into lights to help them sneeze (I must explore that sometime, or ifyou know why, please share the answer in a comment), but you lift your head to the light and then sneeze on the way down, creating a nice arc of germs.

So how fast does a sneeze travel through the air? Well according to the appropriately named site Blurtit, the fastest recorded sneeze was 102 Miles per hour! I would say that the germs from even an average 50MPH sneeze could travel a fair distance in an aircraft cabin.

Some more news from this morning’s NZ Herald was that the students that came back to Auckland after a school trip to mexico come from not one but 2 colleges, Rangititoto and Northcote College. The story also said that some of the kids who were ok when they arrived are now also showing symptoms. I wonder how many people they have been in contact with. The ones who are ill have been quarantined in their homes, but it didn’t say whether their sublings and parents were also quarantined or were going to their schools and workplaces.

What I find really interesting is the coincidence in the numbers. Greater Mexico City has a population of around 22 million people. 1300 reported people with Swine Flu is around 0.00005% of the population and yet a group of 20 odd Auckland kids have been exposed to it. It makes you wonder if the real number is far greater, but these are the only ones that they are prepared to announce. In a city of that size it must be spreading like wildfire.

There is of course already a Swine Flu Google Map, so you can keep an eye on how it spreads.

Is your household prepared for a pandemic?

Just as a footnote, if you have Sky TV, there is a movie called Doomsday on tonight, which is about a virus in Scotland, where they quarantine the whole country. I won’t be home to watch it, but its funny how its on TV tonight. I love coincidences.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)

Is the Swine Flu going to be a pandemic?


When I first read posts about this on Twitter, I thought it was a hoax. The first I heard was that a British Airways crew member had been raced off to hospital after arriving from Mexico feeling ill. He was immediately raced to Northwick Park Hospital and quarantined. There have been possible cases identified in 

The reason I thought it might have been a hoax was because of the EndGame story, suggesting that a virus which is spreading through Mexico might have been man made. For many years there have been fears that terrorists would use viruses as a weapon. Most  of the comments about this seem to be from conspiracy theorists and noone appears to have claimed credit for this, so hopefully that is just something being discussed to add a little fear factor. 

Once I followed more links to a Reuters story that said the virus has already killed 68 people in Mexico and that the Swine Virus was now crossing from human to human. While we were relaxed and happy that we had missed the bird flu, it looks like there is a new pandemic threat.

Once again people are rushing out to buy face masks and there have been reports of people hawking flu masks at 25 times the going rate.

I’ll watch with interest to see if this can be contained and whether people in other countries need to be concerned. With international travel these days it would be very easy for a virus like this to spread around the world. For more information on swine flu, check out International SOS.

When I wrote this blog this morning, I thought it would be a long time before there was any risk in New Zealand, but then a group from Rangitoto College, a km from my office returned from Mexico on a school trip and 25 people were quarantined, some of them with flu-like symptoms. And at Narita Airport in Tokyo, they are taking the temperature of people arriving on overseas flights.

I guess the good thing is that after the previous scares and preparedness for bird flu, many countries are better prepared for a pandemic. It appears that patients with this flu are responding well to Tamiflu, the vacine which was made to help with bird flu.

Now we are told that this has been going around since February at least and that cases have been found in 10 states of the US

This might be a good time again to be prepared for a pandemic, to make sure you can survive at home for a few weeks if you have to and be very careful with your hygiene, especially if, like me you are shaking hands or in close contact with many people on a daily basis.

A Disease A Day has lots of valuable information about the virus itself: How does it feel? How is it discovered?How is it treated? What happens after treatment? The bottom line – How do I avoid it? 

While my blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course http://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)