They spy, we tell

Bill Marczak and Ronald Deibert from Citizen Lab discuss the Munk School’s new report on FinFisher

They spy, we tell

The Citizen Lab, a group within U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs, has released a new report that implicates 33 government agencies in 32 countries over their use of FinFisher, a notorious spyware service.

Working across a multitude of disciplines that include political science, sociology, and computer science, researchers at the Citizen Lab scrutinize and investigate the influence of political power on the Internet.

Gamma Group, the Munich-based developer of FinFisher, advertises on their website that their software offers solutions to “help government law enforcement and intelligence agencies identify, locate and convict serious criminals [by] clos[ing] the gap in traditional investigative methods.”

Spyware is software that can monitor processes on a target’s computer without their knowledge and can send information to another party. Spyware can also be programmed to capture keystrokes, access connected microphones as well as cameras, making it a powerful spying tool.

Previously thought to be accessible by only the world’s most advanced nations, FinFisher’s availability on the open market puts sophisticated spyware in the hands of any nation willing to pay.

Bill Marczak, one of the authors of the Munk School’s report, expects that “governments will not want to be left behind as more and more of their peers get into the computer/phone intrusion game.”

The Citizen Lab was able to gain a large trove of data from a recent data leak at a Milan-based firm called Hacking Team, who offer a FinFisher-like service to governments, law enforcement agencies, and corporations. The leak allowed researchers to identify FinFisher using agencies by their IP address. Marczak says that this was possible because “Hacking Team had provided demos or sold their product to a lot of the same customers FinFisher had.”

Hacking Team’s employees, while on the premises of these customers, would often send emails back to their headquarters, inadvertently logging the customers IP addresses on Hacking Team’s email servers. 

Hacking Team’s data leak represented a huge opening for cybersecurity researchers around the world. For the Citizen Lab, it came after several wide reaching scans for Finfisher servers, most recently in 2012 and 2013. These scans, while unsuccessful in identifying the location of the master FinFisher servers, did reveal FinFisher’s use of proxy servers.

Proxy servers act as a mask for master servers, providing a different IP address for all the master server’s connections to the internet. In this way, FinFisher’s servers might have American IP addresses when, in reality, they are based in Saudi Arabia. Due to this masking of the original IP address, the master servers’ countries of origin remained a mystery, even after Gamma Group suffered a data leak in 2014.

That changed in 2015, when the Citizen Lab found that FinFisher had been “updated so that the decoy pages returned by the [proxy server] were actually fetched by the master,” Marczak explained.

This update allowed for location based queries, such as Googling ‘weather,’ to use the location of the master servers, revealing their country of origin to the Citizen Lab. In fact, the Citizen Lab was even able to simply Google “what is my IP address?” to reveal a master server’s exact IP address.

While Marczak believes that FinFisher will only continue to enhance their decoy system, he is confident in the Citizen Lab’s scans, stating that, “the thinking goes, [that] if they change the behavior of their servers to something we have not seen before, we will not be able to recognize it as FinFisher in the future. However, these slight modifications don’t actually impact our ability to detect their servers, in practice.”

Going forward, Marczak believes that FinFisher will eventually restructure their system so that these types of scan become fruitless, and government use of spyware will become ubiquitous. He warned that such action is dangerous because, “in the case of the surveillance business, you have the private sector involved with very little government regulation.  Since the private sector naturally tends towards profit maximization in the absence of government regulation, you get companies selling to very repressive places like Turkmenistan. That, in essence, is the problem — surveillance companies have little requirement or incentive to perform due diligence on their clients.”

There have been attempts to regulate the use of government spyware, most notably when modifications were made to an export control agreement called the Wassenaar Arrangement.

Originally targeted at regulating the exports of arms and technology, in 2013, 41 countries pledged to adopt controls for the cyber surveillance tools that firms like FinFisher and Hacking Team were selling.Despite these pledges, the world has yet to see any type of spyware regulation, leaving every internet user with a looming breach in their security.

To many, including Ronald Deibert, the Citizen Lab’s director, it is imperative for universities to act as stewards of a free and open Internet. “I see what we are doing as a form of ‘digital arms control verification’ in this regard, shedding a light on abuses and violations of human rights around access to information, freedom of speech, and privacy,” Deibert said, when asked about the Citizen Lab’s purpose.

In respect to the FinFisher report, Deibert finds it to be an excellent representation of the work that his lab aims to produce. “It is a good example of the mixed methods approach we take, combining different disciplines, especially in this case techniques from network measurement, and turning them to pressing frontline questions that are pertinent to the human rights domain.”

The FinFisher report is the latest in a series of investigations concerning the global proliferation of spyware products and services conducted by the Citizen Lab.

WCSA Streetcar Pubcrawl event cancelled after allegations of sexual assault surface

WCSA cites poor ticket sales as reasons for cancellation

WCSA Streetcar Pubcrawl event cancelled after allegations of sexual assault surface

The annual Woodsworh College Students’ Association (WCSA) Halloween Streetcar Pubcrawl was cancelled one day before it was scheduled to take place. The cancellation was announced on the WCSA website on October 26 and cited low-ticket sales as the reason behind the cancellation. According to WCSA’s statement, students who bought tickets will be able to obtain a refund.

WCSA did not state whether allegations of sexual assault and rape at previous WCSA pubcrawls were related to the cancellation of this year’s event.

Lisa Meyer, a fourth-year Woodsworth College student, co-organized a boycott of the pub crawl.  “[The] Streetcar Pubcrawl has been a best-seller event for WCSA for the past five years. The fact that it did not sell out the year that students were finally informed of the previous assaults is very telling,” Meyer said.

Meyer said that she was pleased the event did not take place but expressed disappointment that it was a lack of ticket sales that prompted WCSA to cancel. “I am glad that the event was cancelled [but] it is somewhat frustrating that it was cancelled due to poor sales (as a result of the boycott) rather than WCSA deciding to do what was right,” she added.

Both Meyer and Celia Wandio, founder of Student Against Sexual Violence U of T and fellow boycott organizer, expressed their gratitude for WCSA’s co-operation with them. However, both students said that they have some recommendations on how WCSA can make their events safer.

“Olivia Hauck, the WCSA president, and Teeka Cookson, the  vice-president internal, seem to be on the right track regarding promoting safety at their events, but they have a long way to go, which is why I stand by my recommendation for them to have dry events for the remainder of the year or longer, if necessary, to prove their commitment to making WCSA events safer,” said Meyer.

Wandio hopes the cancellation of the pub crawl makes a impression on other student societies. “I am happy that WCSA cancelled the event; I am even more happy that members of WCSA have been eager to speak with us about how to make future events safer. I hope all college councils have paid attention to this and understand that it is their responsibility to ensure that events they host are safe for all students,” she said.

WCSA had planned to make changes to make this year’s pubcrawl safer, which included  an increased number of “sober leaders,” starting the event earlier, and a streetcar to take students back to campus at the end of the night.

WCSA did not release any public statements regarding the alleged history of sexual assaults at the WCSA Streetcar Pubcrawl events.

As of press time, WCSA did not respond to requests for comment.

UTSU proxy system going online

New system designed to be more efficient and less labour intensive

UTSU proxy system going online

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) proxy vote system is going completely online for the first time. The new process is being implemented for the union’s Special General Meeting (SGM), to be held on November 18.

In previous years, students acting as proxyholders for others who could not attend the meeting were required to pick up a proxy form from the UTSU or the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) offices. A proxy-holding student could collect the signatures and student numbers of up to ten other students on one form.

Changes to the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA) resulted in proxy changes for the Annual General Meeting (AGM) held on October 7, 2015; individuals proxying their vote were required to submit a form, rather than the proxy holders. The form was made available for download for the AGM, but students still had to print them out and return them to the UTSU or UTMSU office.

According to the latest executive report from Ryan Gomes, UTSU vice-president internal & services, the paper system used for the AGM “resulted in a lot of complaints regarding the difficulty that many encountered while proxying their votes.”

Students proxying their votes will still need to fill out their own form, but that form will now be online. It will be run through SimplyVoting, the same voting system that the UTSU uses for its elections and referenda. 

Students wishing to proxy out their vote can log in and enter the student number of the student to whom they wish to proxy their vote. The proxy-holding student will receive an email notification inviting them to accept the proxy vote. Proxy-holders will be able to act as a proxy for up to ten students, the same number as in previous years.

“We were already making other changes to the proxy system to align with CNCA regulations,” said Tka Pinnock, UTSU executive director, on the decision to introduce the online system for the SGM rather than the AGM in October. “We thought a gradual process of change would be more tolerable to the membership.”

During the most recent UTSU Board of Directors meeting on October 30, Pinnock told the board that she consulted with Students for Barrier-free Access, who were supportive of the online system.

Pinnock also said that a lot of money and staff time went into the AGM, and that this new system would be less labour and resource intensive, as there would be no need to manually process and verify the proxies.

The UTSU will accept proxies from November 10 to November 17. The SGM is scheduled to be held at 5:30 pm in the OISE auditorium on November 18.

The SGM was called to address business which was not considered during the October AGM. Items on the agenda include the receipt of audited financial statements, approval of the appointment of auditors, and confirmation of a new Board of Directors structure for the union.

New lease on life for UTS

U of T-affiliated high school may stay following tentative deal

New lease on life for UTS

The University of Toronto and its affiliated high school, the University of Toronto Schools (UTS), have reached a tentative agreement to renew the secondary school’s lease for an additional 50 years. This deal comes after the University of Toronto rejected a $48-million proposal to refurbish UTS in 2011 and stated that the lease would not be renewed. The UTS would have had to vacate the premises by 2021.

The school, located at Bloor and Spadina, has been standing since 1910 and began as an all-boys’ school affiliated with the university.

According to Scott Mabury, U of T vice-president university operations, the decision not to renew the lease began in 2006 when administrative support for UTS was on the decline and questions were raised about the economic viability of the school. Since that time, UTS has stepped up to the plate and demonstrated its operational financial stability, in addition to tightening its relationships with various faculties at U of T including the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the Rotman school of Commerce, and the Munk School of Global Affairs. This demonstration prompted three years of discussions beginning in 2012, which resulted in the new tentative agreement.

The relationship between U of T and UTS has evolved on a mutually beneficial basis. While UTS reports to the provost informationally, the university does not have a say over the curriculum or activities of the school.

According to Jim Fleck, chair of the board at UTS, the new lease comes with renovations to the 105-year-old building, which is also a heritage site. These renovations include 70,000 square feet of refurbished space as well as 70,000 square feet of new space behind the building.

These proposed renovations will be conducted in phases over the course of four years, during which time students will still be able to attend the school. Changes to the historic building include a renewal of the façade, the addition of a 700-seat auditorium, modernized labs, a double gymnasium, and a black box theatre.

Fleck predicts that the cost of the renovations will be in the ballpark of $55 million and will be fundraised by UTS. According to Mabury, U of T will not be paying for the renovations, which contributed to the university’s decision to continue its relationship with the school.

Mabury said that U of T students would also benefit from the new lease. “U of T students will have access to the new auditorium that will be built for large classes and new courses, and while the university will pay operation costs, the building costs will be paid by UTS,” he said.

U of T’s highest governing body, the Governing Council, still needs to approve the agreement. The vote is set for December 15. Following the vote, the renovations will follow a formal process of approvals prior to commencing construction.

University College poised for renovations

Work to begin in September 2016

University College poised for renovations

University College (UC) is set to undergo a major renovation after proposed initial stages of the UC Building Revitalization Project received approval from the University of Toronto Governing Council. The project is concerned with four key elements: a focus on undergraduate students, maintaining the heritage of the building as a national historic site, improving accessibility, and contributing to the recognition of UC as the founding college, and face, of U of T.

The renovations will be split into four main phases, the first and second of which have been given approval. Construction is set to begin in September 2016.

The first phase includes the transition of the Laidlaw Library into the east hall of the building, using the current room for a variety of academic purposes. The west hall of the building will be converted into the ‘Clark Family Reading Room,’ named for Edmund Clark, former CEO of TD Bank, and his wife Fran, following their generous donation of $2.5 million in support of the renovation project. This phase will include many vital accessibility improvements, including an elevator in the front stairwell and ramps to all entrances of the building, as well as fundamental building repairs.

The second phase of the project will see various renovations to the Croft Chapter House, the iconic circular room on the south west side of the building. In an effort to promote research done at the university the room will be revamped into a conference centre. It will see various functional changes to lighting, acoustics, and technological integration, with the adjoining senior common room being used for reception.

The third and fourth phases are still being planned and are pending approval, but they will include renovations to the outdoor quad and the classrooms throughout the building. These renovations will improve the general functionality of the spaces making them more useful for the student body.

University College principal Donald
Ainslie hopes the renovations will help make students more aware of the unique history of the college. “We want to make sure that when a student is in a class at UC, they can’t help but feel the special story of the University of Toronto that UC embodies; the commitment to an open, non-sectarian education.”

Ainslie first began planning for the renovation with his installment in 2011. “In the first year as Principal in 2011-2012, it became apparent to me that the building wasn’t really serving twenty-first century students particularly well, and was needing some attention to make it work better for our students.”

The UC Building Revitalization Project Planning Committee was established in 2014 and has been met with great support from UC students. “Everyone should be able to enjoy [UC] and I’m glad that UC is taking initiative to make the space more accessible. Other renovations will be useful as well for future students to enjoy the space while still admiring its history,” said second-year political science and criminology student Meher Singh.

Gita Goolsarran, a third-year UC student, is excited for the renovations and hopes that they will help to foster a sense of community within the college. “I’m very hopeful that these renovations will give students more enjoyable spaces to study and relax, as those are actually quite limited in our college.”

The first and second phases of the project are due to be completed by January 2017, but the timing is contingent on adequate security funding, as well as the construction and design processes.

Living Architecture Tour showcases green spaces on campus

Multi-sensory experience has psychological, environmental benefits

Living Architecture Tour showcases green spaces on campus

Students took a tour of the University of Toronto’s green spaces this week as part of a Living Architecture  Tour. The tours were organized by Jonathan Silver, founder of the Living Architecture Tour, and Jess Dawe from the U of T Sustainability Office. Silver discussed the important psychological and environmental benefits of having green spaces, and specifically what benefits they could offer students.

Living architecture offers a multi-sensory experience and allows students to experience a sensory interaction with nature in an otherwise dull, disconnected environment. According to Dawe, green spaces in a workplace environment have been shown to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity. On a university campus, green spaces can help students and staff to feel more relaxed.

“The benefits for students I can classify as psychological benefits, and it’s particularly what I was saying about the multi sensory experience,” said Silver. “Green living infrastructure, green walls especially, you can smell them and you can hear them and you can touch them, and you can feel the humidity on your skin, and that sensory kind of environment brings you out of your head and puts you into your body.”

“So people who are always thinking too much and people who are thinking a lot and people who are students have a chance to stop thinking and to be in their bodies and that feels really good and it’s restorative, it reduces anxiety, it reduces stress, and that’s going to help students a lot, through stressful periods and to produce better work.”

The green wall at the Exam Centre is a space that many students will have the chance to appreciate by the end of their first year. The dense foliage absorbs carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde, and creates oxygen, which is pumped throughout the entire building.

In addition to aesthetic value, living architecture has important environmental benefits as well. Green roofs, usually comprised of succulents, act as a sponge to absorb excess rainwater; every square metre of roof surface requires about 500 litres of water each year, not including snow or hail, according to Silver.

Many people are unaware of Toronto’s green spaces. Often they are hidden spaces such as rooftops, or inside private buildings not accessible to the public. Through the Living Architecture Tour, Silver said that he aimed to increase awareness of these spaces and their various benefits.

Ontario introduces legislation to address sexual violence

Campuses would be required to have stand-alone sexual violence policy

Ontario introduces legislation to address sexual violence

This past week saw the Government of Ontario introduce the Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act on October 27. The legislation, if passed, would help make homes, campuses, workplaces, and communities safer and  to support survivors of sexual violence.

The Ontario government released a statement clarifying the changes; the legislation would require “[every] publicly assisted college and university and private career college to have a stand-alone sexual violence policy and to review [their policy] at least once every three years.”

Moreover, campuses would be required to report incidences of sexual violence to the minister or superintendent, as well as on the effectiveness of their initiatives to address sexual violence. Student input will also be required during policy development and review processes.

Celia Wandio, a fourth-year student and founder of Students Against Sexual Violence U of T, believes the act is a good first step, but that it is not enough to create the change that is needed. “Simply requiring that universities create policies does not necessitate that these policies be good, nor does it mean they will necessarily be followed and implemented properly,” Wandio said. “We’ve seen this problem in the US: even though they’ve had legislation like Title IX for ages, the problem of sexual violence persists with inadequate action from university administrations.”

“Simply requiring that universities create policies does not necessitate that these policies be good, nor does it mean they will necessarily be followed and implemented properly.”

U of T has responded to calls for action against sexual violence by forming the Advisory Committee to the President and Provost on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence.

The committee is not in charge of developing policy, but will make recommendations to the president and provost this year including prevention efforts, how to ensure reports of sexual violence are addressed, and making sure sufficient support is available to victims.

However, if the legislation does not pass, it is unclear whether U of T will take the necessary steps to develop a sexual violence policy outside of provincial obligation. “I quite frankly do not think U of T would be considering updating and adding to its sexual violence policies and procedures without internal and external pressure,” Wandio said.

“We are very supportive of the Premier’s action plan, and the committee is certainly taking the proposed legislation into consideration as they determine what their recommendations will be,” said Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T. “That said, at this stage it’s premature to speculate about what the committee will recommend and if that will result in new or revised policies.”

Wandio said that policy changes should not come from the top down and that students as well as the administration should be able to work together. “I am trying to remain optimistic about what U of T will produce, and I hope students and the administration are able to work together on this, but we need to avoid becoming complacent. Whatever changes they make or don’t make, they need to know that students will be watching and holding them accountable,” she said.

Outside of campuses, the proposed legislation would create specific employer duties to protect workers, remove the limitation period for civil proceedings based on sexual assault, shorten the time it takes to end a tenancy agreement for those experiencing domestic or sexual violence, and eliminate the limitation period for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault to make a compensation application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

Robarts hosts Alternate Reality Game

Unique event part of Open Access Week

Robarts hosts Alternate Reality Game

As part of the University of Toronto’s annual participation in International Open Access Week students were invited to interact with an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) taking place in Robarts. Open Access Week seeks to promote unrestricted access to scholarly materials.

The University of Toronto Libraries’ (UTL) Scholarly Communications and Copyright Offices hosted the game between October 19 and 23. Both creators and players deemed ‘Open Robarts’ to be a huge success.

“We were looking to do something different than the previous years for the event and an alternate reality game was something that the library had never done before,” said Daniela Cancilla, UTL copyright outreach librarian.

The ARG consisted of a storyline about a conspiracy theory that something strange was occurring at Robarts.

“Players worked with this group of ‘investigators’ to discover what was happening at the library,” said Cancilla, describing the game. “As players got more involved with the game by exploring the services and departments of the library, they would discover that a secret society called the Vayika were recruiting members to help oppose a group who seek knowledge as a means of power.”

Winners of the game could choose to join the Vayika and become protectors of knowledge, join the Kambre as part of the conspiracy theorist group, or join the Danand as a default if they do neither, a group that seeks to maintain the status quo.

Cancilla said the inspiration for the game came from a web comic created by Toronto author Mark Foo and artist David Oxley, in which Robarts was featured.

“Our comic is about a reporter who is looking into Toronto’s ‘ugly’ brutalist buildings and finds a conspiracy hiding a dark secret beneath the city,” explained Foo. He found that his experience writing the ARG was similar to writing the comic. “If you put an interesting lens on history, then start digging, you’ll find all kinds of coincidences and events that just fit. After that, it’s a matter of lining them up [in] a way so people will pay attention and hopefully find [it] interesting,” he added.

Oxley explained that his ‘head-first obsession’ with escape room games made learning about ARGs an easy transposition as there is a large crossover between the two. “Using the library’s actual programmers, printers and cataloging was imperative to create the idea that this game had a foot within our everyday reality,” he said.

According to Cancilla, the game achieved an unprecedented level of popularity , gaining 10,552 hits from people all over the world.

Eli Goodfriend, a winner and remote gameplayer, said that he enjoyed the game and praised its design. “It was fantastic, the game designers really did a good job of making play fun for remote players too. Secret societies are always a good theme, and the overall message about open access to information was well done.”

Cancilla hoped that that the game would make library events seem more relevant and fun to students. “Even if a few people are more aware about open access and what it could do for them in their scholarship, it would be worth it.”

Due to the success of the game, Cancilla mentioned the possibility of bringing it back: “we were so pleased at how receptive people were towards the game. It’s possible that we might bring it back.”