Google enabled targetting of soldiers in Iraq

I got quite annoyed when I read this sensationalist rant against Google by written by Paul McNamara. McNamara bases much of his rant on quotes from this article over at the Telegraph. Basically he would have us believe that insurgents in Iraq are using two year old satellite photos on Google Earth to pinpoint their attacks against British bases in Basra.

Now I’m no military commander, but if your enemy can rely on two year old photos to plan attacks against you then shouldn’t alarm bells be ringing in your head about your own complacency? Am I the only one that thinks that it shouldn’t really be possible for insurgents to pinpoint attacks based on two year old pictures?

By their own admission the Military Intelligence (Oxymoron anyone?) state that:

We have never had proof that they have deliberately targeted any area of the camp using these images but presumably they are of great use to them.

I’m guessing a pair of binoculars and a current roadmap might actually be more useful to them. Unless the images were very recent they aren’t going to show the correct positions of tents, or ordinance or even buildings. I admit they might be useful in the wider context of planning to provide information about surrounding terrain but its not as though that information isn’t already available elsewhere.

McNamara’s opening salvo is hardly objective:

Sooner or later Google is going to have to start doing a better job of coming to grips with the collateral damage created by the ever-expanding array of wiz-bang applications that have made it a worldwide phenomenon.

There are always social implications for any new technology most people love Google Earth in fact there’s an entire sub-culture thats developed around people trying to identify buildings, boats, interesting bits of terrain etc. and posting what they have discovered up just visit here to see what I mean. Stating that by not censoring their service Google is somehow colluding with terrorists to kill soldiers is to my mind offensive, I’d agree with him if the images were real time or current but they aren’t. All this is, is scaremongering of the worst kind and I dont like it … in fact I find it quite distasteful.

C’mon the last time I tried to use Google Earth to look at my home there was a huge camper van parked outside it owned by one of the neighbours … but she sold it three years ago!

Anyway found this article over at The Register whilst its a tad irreverent it makes a great read, one of the individuals quoted (Brigadier Daya Ratnayake – Sri Lanka) makes an excellent point:

“In this era of technology, you have to live with the fact that almost everything is on the internet – from bomb-making instructions to assembling aircraft. So it’s something the military has to learn to live with and adapt.”

However what worries me the most is that doing a quick google for the search “google earth insurgents terrorists” leads me to a list of articles that regurgitate the kinds flawed views echoed by McNamara and fail to point out how woefully out of date the images are. Take this quote from Fox News’s coverage of the story:

The officer said he believes insurgents use Google Earth to identify the most vulnerable areas of bases, such as tents. The tool can get as detailed as showing specific vehicles in a desired region and has no limits to who can sign up and use it

What happened to journalistic integrity? or actually using common sense? I guess scaring the shit out of people sells newspapers a damn sight quicker than telling them the truth.

For those in any doubt here’s John Pike’s view on the issue over at

“If I was going to be going through all the trouble to conduct a well-planned assault on a nuclear power plant, I’m not going to trust some Web site to do my intelligence collection, If evildoers were wanting to get imagery of say, a nuclear power plant, there’s simply so many different ways that they can do it, the fact that it’s available on an Internet Web site really doesn’t alter their attack planning requirements.”

You can also read this article written by Barry Levine which offers a more balanced view, in fact Paul I recommend that you do read it you might actually learn something useful to report back to your readers.

btw: heres Bruce Schneier’s take on it.

U.S. Government to encrypt all data on laptops

Was catching up on Bruce Schneier’s blog when I came across this posting. Immediately made me think of a conversation me and several members of our skywalk team were having on Friday over lunch at one of the local pubs. We were talking about the inadequacies of various types of security measures being considered by the UK Government, in particular the laughable ID Card Scheme. Rob made some interesting points about the government push of ID Cards in the UK and the relationship or lobbying for them by PKI vendors, im hoping he’ll blog about soon….anyway…

I remember rather anecdotaly mentioning during the conversation that whilst at aQtive Justin, Alan and myself briefly worked with a company called topsoft, who almost a decade ago had developed a full disk encryption system, which they were selling to other companies and the UK DoD. FDE systems have often been considered overkill, but encrypting every bit of information on a machine does mean that you dont need to rely on the user consciously choosing what to encrypt and what not to.

It is interesting that the US Government has decided to open up this selection of a product in the form of a competition … I find myself agreeing with Schneier’s assessment that:

It’s certainly a high-stakes competition among the vendors, but one that is likely to improve the security of all products. I’ve long said that one of the best things the government can do to improve computer security is to use its vast purchasing power to pressure vendors to improve their security.

But I’ve always been really wary of the whole idea of Key Escrow, the system just seems far too easy to abuse, and some of the worse violations of privacy, encroachment of civil liberties and indeed human rights have been perpetrated by so called patriots under the banner of “national security“.