What’s an Egotistical Giraffe
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By Adam Weatherall
The latest Edward Snowden revelations about our fans at the N.S.A have got we here at PowerFist.US a little concerned. Not for our own privacy, no, because according to Snowden’s last leaks, with programs like Prism, X-Keyscore, and Lovelace in full operation, surely our privacy has all but vanished. But we have indeed become concerned with the sanity of whoever is in charge of naming programs with questionable
titles such as Egotistical Giraffe at the N.S.A. Yes, Mr. Snowden, the now famous whistle blower who this past week was the recipient of the prestigious Sam Adams award, revealed to us the existence of two new programs with Egotistical Giraffe and Egotistical Goat. These programs were designed to exploit the egos of internet users who believed they could achieve complete anonymity from using a service called TOR. But perhaps the most revealing detail of all is that the existence of these programs really just exposes us to the inflated egos of the analysts at the N.S.A . Speaking on the ego Sigmund Freud once said, “Analysis does not set out to make pathological reactions impossible, but to give the patient’s ego freedom to decide one way or another.” And in a way that is exactly what the anonymity of TOR provided; the freedom to decide one way or another, without the ever watching eyes of government surveillance to sway your decisions.
What you need to know about TOR or “The Onion Router” is that it’s an open-source public project that bounces its users’ internet traffic through several other computers, which it calls “nodes”, it does this to keep it anonymous and avoid online censorship tools. You also should know that TOR is a creation of the United States Government who, until October of 2012, provided up to 60% of its funding. In its original concept it was intended to be utilized by journalists, activists and campaigners in places like the US and Europe as well as China, Iran and Syria to maintain the privacy of their communications and avoid reprisals from their respective governments. Though TOR and services like it are by the vast majority accessed by users who mean well, it was presented to us by most media sources as the home of the now infamous website “The Silk Road”. The Silk Road, which was reported to operate on “The Dark Net”, was before it’s closing billed as an open air drug market which utilized bitcoin as a currency to make international drug deals and other nefarious transactions. However, this generalization of TOR and its user base has up to this point been vastly misrepresented. TOR or the “Darknet” as it has been commonly referred to was developed and is used by our own state department when attempting to contact people located in countries with oppressive governments. The journalists, activists, and dissidents who use TOR simply want to remain free from restrictive internet laws that might be used to dissuade the advancement of democratic principles. The D.O.D. or The State Department decided it was in our nation’s best interest to give the citizens the tools necessary to make privacy a possibility. The N.S.A’s attempt to dissuade even our own government with its “Egotistical” programs is one of many new concerns brought to light as of late.
Foremost among those concerns is whether or not the NSA has acted against internet users in the U.S. when attacking TOR. One of the functions of the anonymity service is to hide the country of all of its users, meaning any attack could be hitting members of TOR’s substantial U.S. user base.
Collecting data specifically on U.S. users would be against even Egotistical Giraffe’s initial intentions, however, based on these latest Edward Snowden slides, this most certainly has already occurred. You see several of the N.S.A’s attacks resulted in implanting malicious code (much like a virus) on the computer of TOR users who visit particular websites. The agency said they are targeting terrorists or organized criminals visiting particular discussion boards, but these attacks could also hit journalists, researchers, or those who accidentally stumble upon a targeted site. And really they have no way to tell whether or not they are attacking a “good guy” or a “bad guy’s” computer until long after the attack has taken place. The N.S.A’s latest efforts should also raise concerns in the State Department and other U.S. government agencies that provide funding to increase TOR’s security, as part of the Obama administration’s internet freedom agenda to help citizens of repressive regimes. The other strategy of identifying TOR users was implementing N.S.A controlled servers at “exit” points for the service. By the N.S.A’s own admission this portion of the project was only “minorly successful” because of the variables that TOR presents, they were only able to capture a small selection of the total users. But what they did do is expose a flaw in the TOR system, a flaw that multiple nations have been searching for such as China and Iran; last year both unsuccessfully tried to hack the system. Now because of this exposed flaw, the dissidents and journalists this service was initially intended for in places like the aforementioned countries could now too be exposed.
Why the revelations of these programs lead to further speculation as to the psychosis of the analyst at the N.S.A. is because what egotistical giraffe really shows us is one hand of the government breaking a system the other hand created. Self-injury does not usually exemplify the actions of sane individuals. It makes me wonder if we were to “analyze” the “analysts” currently working in the dark and murky corners of the N.S.A., what would we find out about the status of their egos? Again speaking on the Ego Sigmund Freud once said, “Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent.” Left to their own devices, the N.S.A without warrant or consent, has implemented programs which monitor ex-lover’s and even attempted to break our own government’s programs, building meta-data filled files which can even be used to determine whether or not two individuals are actually in love. My analysis of the N.S.A. leaves me with only one question… who watches the watchers? For now I suppose it’s just myself and the like minded readers of powerfist.us, and more importantly people like Edward Snowden and the brave reporters at the Guardian and the Washington post who first brought us the news of Egotistical Giraffe. There is hope that logic is on the horizon however, this week N.S.A. Chairmen Army General Keith Alexander and his deputy are being pushed into resignation. Perhaps this is a sign that the next upcoming programs designed to infringe on our freedoms will at least be slightly less “egotistical” in the way they are named. But until then folks, to you and to all our fans at the N.S.A, I hope logic will prevail.