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A Year Ago: Think-tank brands Jam Echelon Day 'pointless'

First published: Tue, 12 Oct 1999 13:50:00 GMT
Written by Will Knight, Contributor

Echelon. It's supposed to be a government-backed system that snoops on our email. Hacking groups want to bring it down...

The UK's most prominent Internet think-tank, The foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), has branded a plan to overload an international email monitoring system as "pointless".

The "Jam Echelon protest", scheduled to take place on October 22, is designed to bring down the "Echelon" US email monitoring system.

Several privacy groups claim Echelon is used by the US and UK governments to automatically monitor email messages. Neither government has ever acknowledged its existence.

To Jam Echelon users will be encouraged to flood the Internet with emails containing sensitive key words relating to international security. It is believed these words will trigger an automated response that will eventually overload the system.

Postings on various newsgroups and on a number of prominent hacking Web sites have publicised the Jam Echelon project. One, the Electronic Disturbance Theatre, a hacking group renowned for involving itself in civil action, encourages budding cyber-terrorists to randomly send thousands of email messages containing the following suitably mysterious message.

To: Colonel Paul F. Capasso, 50th Communications Group Commander

You should pay the DEA agent so he can get on with the job! He's got to incite the masses to create some domestic disruption New York on January 1st as that year 2000 thing really heats up. Additionally, Those damn Islamic fundamentalists released a manifesto this morning. They're going to pass on the fissionable test data to the Chinese agent posted at Schriever AFB tomorrow. Further to that, Ussama bin Laden made a broadcast this morning. We just got translation back and they're claiming that they will pass the counterfeit notes to the Secret Service agent working out of Nurrungar just as everybody's sitting down for thanksgiving. Finally, An Iraqi diplomat is well positioned to publish the specs on the rs9512c from an Internet site hosted at some ISP in New York tomorrow.

This may look like a cunning ploy, but according to Nicholas Bohm member of the advice council for the FIPR, it is not likely to have much effect. "I not quite clear what the purpose of this is supposed to be and it seems a bit unlikely that it will work. Some people seem to think that this is going to reveal the existence of Echelon and others seem to believe it will overload it."

Bohm also points out the project will have to be fairly elaborate to be successful saying: "An awful lot of stuff will have to sent through for it to have any effect. It will have to be pretty complicated to get round countermeasures that will start ignoring messages with exactly the same words in them."

According to Bohm a far more practical way to register dissatisfaction with government monitoring of email is simply to use encryption. "If people dislike the system and want to promote privacy they should encrypt their mail which would make it unworkable anyway."

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