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They say the two agencies were trying to intercept encryption keys that were being exchanged between mobile operators and the companies (like Gemalto) who supplied them with SIM cards. The company said it had noticed several security incidents in 2010 and 2011 that fit the descriptions in The Intercept's documents. Gemalto had no idea who was behind them until now. They add, "These intrusions only affected the outer parts of our networks – our office networks — which are in contact with the outside world. The SIM encryption keys and other customer data in general, are not stored on these networks." They claim proper use of encryption and isolation of different networks prevented attackers from getting the information they were after.
The accuracy of these portraits is still an area of hot debate — most of them look rather generic. The NY Times staff tested it with a couple of their employees, circulating the DNA-inspired portraits and seeing if people could guess who it was supposed to be. None of the ~50 employees were able to identify reporter John Markoff, and only about 10 were able to identify video journalist Catherine Spangler. But even though the accuracy for a person's entire face is low, techniques for specific attributes, like eye color, have improved greatly. Of course, the whole situation raises a slew of civil liberties questions: "What traits are off limits? Should the authorities be able to test whether a suspect has a medical condition or is prone to violence should such testing be possible?"
Prompted by concerns about a proliferation of illegal and untraceable SIM cards, the directive is the most visible step so far in Pakistan's efforts to restore law and order after Taliban militants killed 150 students and teachers at a school in December. Officials said the six terrorists who stormed the school in Peshawar were using cellphones registered to one woman who had no obvious connection to the attackers.