How Our Networks Have Come Under More Surveillance Than Ever

Illustration for article titled How Our Networks Have Come Under More Surveillance Than Ever

Technology improves. It's something we know instinctively, but we typically don't give much thought to how much and how quickly security and surveillance tech is advancing. Ars Technica has a deep look at just that, and its disconcerting implications on the real world.

The most state of the art surveillance is made possible by deep packet inspection (DPI), which can gather data about specific users' online activities. It does this by closely monitoring or capturing the data that passes through a given network, at times by the petabyte.

How does this affect you? Some time soon, you won't be able to escape the deep data scrapes. "There's no question that within the next three to five years, not having a copy of your network data will be as strange as not having a firewall," the CEO of Bivio Networks, a leading firm working with DPI technology, told Ars Technica.

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DPI is used for everything from marketing to piracy detection—though Comcast was shut down by the FCC over the issue. Here's a specific example of how it works in real life:

One frequent activity that Splunk has helped the University automate is processing Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notices after a student is discovered hosting pirated content on sites hosted from their own computers or over BitTorrent streams. "We needed an automated, instant way of locking those down," Maszeroski said. Data brought into Splunk can be used to perform a search for BitTorrent traffic and allows it to be identified by MAC address; the University's information security office has built a Java application that uses Splunk's Web API to find the offending MAC address and then "cut the person off at a switch or wireless level."

If you're interested in how your online day-to-days are being and will be monitored going forward, and just how breathtaking in scope it can be, you should definitely check out the full piece over at Ars. [Ars Technica]

Image by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock

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DISCUSSION

DPI is the sort of reason everyone needs to move to pure SSL connections for everything. After the initial handshake, everything is encrypted on the wire thus keeping snooping software out of the underlying data stream. The other reason to move to SSL is the fact that 99% of all WiFi traffic isn't secure and eavesdroppers ARE listening in. The only secure WiFi is EAP-TLS/PEAP where you are asked to supply a signed client SSL certificate before you are even allowed to connect to the network and the hotspot is carefully configured to not allow nodes to talk to each other. I've only ever seen one EAP-TLS installation before so when Wikipedia says they are "rare", I agree.