Archives November 30, 2020

Report Claims America’s CIA Also Controlled a Second Swiss Encryption Firm

Swiss politicians have voiced outrage and demanded an investigation after revelations that a second Swiss encryption company was allegedly used by the CIA and its German counterpart to spy on governments worldwide. “How can such a thing happen in a country that claims to be neutral like Switzerland?” co-head of Switzerland’s Socialist Party, Cedric Wermuth, asked in an interview with Swiss public broadcaster SRF late Thursday. He called for a parliamentary inquiry after an SRF investigation broadcast on Wednesday found that a second Swiss encryption firm had been part of a spectacular espionage scheme orchestrated by U.S. and German intelligence services.

A first investigation had revealed back in February an elaborate, decades-long set-up, in which the CIA and its German counterpart creamed off the top-secret communications of governments through their hidden control of a Swiss encryption company called Crypto.

SRF’s report this week found that a second but smaller Swiss encryption firm, Omnisec, had been used in the same way.

That company, which was split off from Swiss cryptographic equipment maker Gretag in 1987, sold voice, fax and data encryption equipment to governments around the world until it halted operations two years ago. SRF’s investigative program Rundschau concluded that, like Crypto, Omnisec had sold manipulated equipment to foreign governments and armies. Omnisec meanwhile also sold its faulty OC-500 series devices to several federal agencies in Switzerland, including its own intelligence agencies, as well as to Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, and other private companies in the country, the SRF investigation showed.

The findings unleashed fresh outrage in Switzerland, which is still reeling from the Crypto revelations.

Microsoft Also Patented Tech to Score Meetings Using Filmed Body Language, Facial Expressions

Newly surfaced Microsoft patent filings describe a system for deriving and predicting “overall quality scores” for meetings using data such as body language, facial expressions, room temperature, time of day, and number of people in the meeting. The system uses cameras, sensors, and software tools to determine, for example, “how much a participant contributes to a meeting vs performing other tasks (e.g., texting, checking email, browsing the Internet).”

The “meeting insight computing system” would then predict the likelihood that a group will hold a high-quality meeting. It would flag potential challenges when an organizer is setting the meeting up, and recommend alternative venues, times, or people to include in the meeting, for example… A patent application made public Nov. 12 notes, “many organizations are plagued by overly long, poorly attended, and recurring meetings that could be modified and/or avoided if more information regarding meeting quality was available.” The approach would apply to in-person and virtual meetings, and hybrids of the two…

The filings do not detail any potential privacy safeguards. A Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on the patent filings in response to GeekWire’s inquiry. To be sure, patents are not products, and there’s no sign yet that Microsoft plans to roll out this hypothetical system. Microsoft has established an internal artificial intelligence ethics office and a companywide committee to ensure that its AI products live by its principles of responsible AI, including transparency and privacy. However, the filings are a window into the ideas floating around inside Microsoft, and they’re consistent with the direction the company is already heading.