The iRevolution: Secure and Undercover? (By Patrick Meier)

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Apr 05, 2008

I recently had a chat with Patrick Meier, a doctoral student at Tufts University, and am thrilled to have started a conversation. Patrick is doing his dissertation on what he calls the "iRevolution," activism, repressive regimes and who is winning in the cat and mouse tech game. (And yes, I am paraphrasing!) He generously allowed us to repost one of his pieces on secure SMS and a mobile equivalent to TOR. We'll be in close touch with Patrick as he delves into the research - it's much needed and great work.

By Patrick Meier

WirelessWeek: Analysts predicted SMS revenues of up to $80 billion worldwide in 2007, with the number of text messages expected to reach a whopping 1.8 trillion by 2010.

CellTrust was founded in 2006 by a group of Internet security experts who wanted to place security high on the mobile agenda taking a proactive approach. This week, they rolled out SecureSMS, the first global secure SMS Gateway. Users can now meet security compliance standards with a cost effective solution providing military strength encryption. The service includes a remote wipe API which means that when a handset is lost or stolen, the user can remotively wipe the handset. The secure SMS Gateway is available in 160 countries worldwide.

This is precisely the technology that I’ve been waiting for and with the revenue stream in the billions of dollars, it’s only a matter of time before sending encrypted texts messages becomes standard operating procedures for Smart Mobs and nonviolent movements alike. SecureSMS may soon be synomimous with the iRevolution. Will this change the balance of power between repressive regimes and social resistance networks? Or will coercive states find a way to block this kind of functionality?

While video footage of the riots in Tibet did leak out, it was nevertheless limited and there wee often delays. The Nokia N95, however, can stream live video from the phone to the Internet. So imagine, writes Andy Carvin, “if the protestors were able to webcast their protests - and the ensuing crackdowns - live over their phones using China’s GSM network? The video would stream live and get crossposted via tools like YouTube, Seesmic and Twitter, spreading the content around so it can’t be snuffed.”

Andy asks: what about the need for securing anonymity during transmission? Surfers can hit the waves whenever they choose to since software such as TOR allows them to remain anonymous by causing their online communications to bounce through a random series of relay servers around the world.

For example, let’s say you’re in Beijing and you publish a blog the authorities don’t like. If you just used your PC as usual and logged into your publishing platform directly, they could follow your activities and track you down. With Tor, you hop-scotch around: your PC might connect to a server in Oslo, then Buenos Aires, then Miami, then Tokyo, then Greece before it finally connects to your blogging platform. Each time you did this, it would be a different series of servers. That way, it’s really difficult for authorities to trace your steps.

The question Andy poses is when (or whether) Tor or related software projects will (or can) adapt their services to meet the mobile needs of activist networks and nonviolent movements? Taking a different angle, the question I would raise is whether video encryption might be render the need for anonymity less pressing?

Several techniques are available the most and the one that makes the most sense here given our security concerns is the “Cut & Rotate” approach. This scrambling method cuts each scanned line into pieces and reassembles them in a different order. The advantage of this technique compared to others is that it provides a compatible video signal, gives an excellent level of data security, as well as good decode quality and stability. The disadvantage, however, is that the technique requires specialized scrambling equipment. That said, a good example of this system is the Viewlock II & micro-Viewlock II. The micro-Viewlock II is battery operated with low current drain and is designed for highly covert applications, such as body-worn video surveillance. So my question is whether hardware rather than software such as Tor might be a potential path to consider?

For more, see a few additional resources that we compiled:

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