Intelligence: The Linux Connection


February 27, 2009: New sources of intelligence show up in the most unusual places. Take, for example, the huge quantities of data that are transmitted by satellite. Turns out that all you need is a satellite dish (a one meter model will do), some knowledge of satellite communications (if you are of the geekish persuasion, you can become self-taught in these arts rather quickly) and familiarity with Linux, and tools (freely available on the Internet) for hacking Linux data feeds, you can access lots of useful data that is not supposed to be open to everyone. That's because, over the last decade, satellite communications companies have switched from the custom hardware and software gear long used to communicate with the birds, and control the data streams, to more efficient and cheaper software programmed in Linux. The older systems, being custom made, were much more difficult to hack into. But Linux based stuff is not. Moreover, in the old days, a lot of sensitive material was not encrypted (which slows things down), because there were so few instances of anyone bothering to hack into the feeds. That was because you had to hack a lot of control systems to find anything useful. Life is not as difficult now for the satellite hacker. You have a lot of hobbyist hackers doing it just because it can be done, and to satisfy curiosity.

There's a lot of useful stuff available for the eavesdropping. Email, raw newsfeeds, entertainment broadcasts, government communications and so on. All this is an open secret in the geek world, and governments are trying to get the satellite communications companies to improve their Linux security, encrypt transmissions or, preferably, both. In the meantime, intel agencies so inclined, are wallowing in new data.



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