Wednesday 27 April 2016

It’s a Vulnerable World: Panama Papers Edition

Panama Papers, SumRando Cybersecurity, VPN, Secure Messenger, Web ProxyApril 2016 kicked off with the largest data leak in history: 11.5 million documents from the database of offshore Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. These “Panama Papers” have since disclosed the many ways wealthy individuals from around the world hide money and evade taxes, both legally and illegally. 

In the last month, politicians have stepped down, newspaper editors have been fired and countless investigations have begun. As we wait to see exactly what comes of the Panama Papers, what’s clear is that the leak has already shed much-needed light on many behind-the-scenes practices.

Because of the Panama Papers, concerns have been raised, voices have been heard and action has been taken:

  • In Pakistan, opposition politician Imran Khan has responded to the Panama Papers leak by demanding a more thorough investigation of the role played by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his children, who were cited as owning three offshore holding companies. Sharif stands by his innocence and has agreed to step down if a Supreme Court commission finds any wrongdoing. The government, in turn, questions the motives of those protesting Sharif: “Imran is just really desperate for any kind of shortcut to becoming prime minister and with these leaks he thinks he’s hit the jackpot,” critiqued a Pakistani minister.
  • Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa boasted in a tweet, “They spent almost a year looking for something against the Ecuadorian government and found nothing”—only to shortly thereafter learn that the Papers do in fact reference a 2012 investigation that involved both Correa and his brother, Fabricio. A presidential adviser has since refuted the claim: “The president is a very honest person. This is all absolutely false. And he’s not involved in any offshore company directly or indirectly.”
  • In Iceland, Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson did not resign, but did step aside indefinitely in response to revelations of a private offshore company set up by he and his wife. More recently, Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson has been found to have an offshore account, despite his claims otherwise.
  • In Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his family have been implicated by the Panama Papers, but the general prosecutor has decided not to pursue an investigation, claiming a lack of “reliable information.” 
  • Approximately 500 well-known Indians have been cited in the Panama Papers. Some, like actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, question the legitimacy of the report, but are willing to comply with the ensuing investigation. For others, judgement day has already arrived: India issued a warrant for the arrest of ex-billionaire and corrupt businessman Vijay Mallya and then revoked his passport as well.
  • In Hong Kong, the Panama Papers have only revealed how precarious the state of free speech is. Ming Pao chief editor Keung Kwok-yuen was fired following his decision to feature Panama Paper information on the newspaper’s front page. The paper maintains the decision was merely in the interest of saving costs.
  • Jose Manuel Soria, Spain’s minister of industry, energy and tourism, resigned once information was revealed linking him to a Jersey-based offshore company. He has not been officially charged with a crime.

SumRando applauds the transparency and dialogue brought by the Panama Papers, especially for those countries whose concerns too often remain unsaid and unchecked.

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Thursday 21 April 2016

This Tiradentes Day, Take a Stance Against Censorship in Brazil

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Happy Tiradentes Day, Brazil! This year, in honor of Brazilian liberation movement leader Joaquim “the Tooth Puller” Xavier, consider fighting for your freedom in a different way: by signing the Institute for Technology and Society’s petition against Internet censorship in Brazil.

On March 31, Brazil’s parliamentary Inquiry Commission on Cybercrimes proposed a series of amendments that would undermine the freedom of expression, net neutrality and data protection currently guaranteed under Marco Civil da Internet, Brazil’s Internet Bill of Rights.

By April 1, the participants of RightsCon Silicon Valley 2016 had already drafted a list of grievances against the proposed legislation:

  • It allows law enforcement agencies to access IP addresses without a court order.  
  • Internet service providers (ISPs) will be obliged to remove content considered “harmful to personal honor” upon notification within 48 hours, under the penalty of criminal and civil liability. 
  • ­Contrary to all international human rights guidelines, Internet service providers (ISPs) will be obliged to actively monitor user content in order to impede future uploads of the same material that was removed for being “harmful to personal honor,” and also everything potentially related to it.
  • ­It broadens the definition of what constitutes the crime of invasion of electronic devices to cases in which there is no proven harm and regardless of the intent. It possibly criminalizes practices such as whistleblowing or circumventing technical protection measures (TPMs) that hamper personal use of content protected by copyright.
  • ­It creates a blank check for courts to block the use of application and services on the infrastructure level of the Internet, which creates negative consequences for freedom of expression. In addition to potentially negatively affecting the freedom of particular companies and/or business models, blocking and filtering measures fail to comply with the principle of proportionality, do not respect the principle of network neutrality, and may have a spillover effect on other jurisdictions, causing collateral damage the stability of the internet.

Already, the pushback has been strong enough to convince legislators to rewrite several clauses in the initial proposal, but privacy advocates argue that the adjustments are simply not enough. For example, the content removal clause has been modified to remove the 48-hour time limit and also so that only content already established as illegal is required to be removed.

For groups such as Oficina Antivigilancia, such change is an improvement, but also carries its own set of concerns: “It worries us the way in which this obligation will be implemented, mainly when it comes to content in which the public intentionally wants to subvert the blockade, once sophisticated techniques (and others not so much, like flipping/mirroring the image or accelerating the reproduction of videos) could be very hard to technically detect, especially considering the volume of new posts in the Internet’s main platforms like Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.”

For more information, a complete overview of changes made can be found on Oficina Antivigilancia’s website; the revised version of the legislation is available as well. Be sure to do your part and sign the petition. Tiradentes would thank you.

SumRando Cybersecurity is a Mauritius-based VPN, Web Proxy and Secure Messenger provider. Surf secure and stay Rando!

Tuesday 19 April 2016

SumRando Speaks: Author Anjan Sundaram on Censorship in Rwanda

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Last Monday, the United Nations acknowledged the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, which served for many as an opportunity to recognize the strides the country has made in the 22 years since 800,000 individuals, largely Tutsis, were systematically killed in less than 100 days.

President of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft spoke at the commemorative ceremony to praise the accomplishments of today’s Rwanda: “For despite the trauma it suffered, Rwanda is an example of successful post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. Rwanda teaches the world that it is absolutely possible to rebuild a country torn by war and violence. To reunite after deep division. To reconcile profound differences. And above all, to build a dynamic society and embark on a major period of recovery and development.”

Looking for a more in-depth account of modern Rwanda, SumRando spoke with Anjan Sundaram, author of Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship. Sundaram arrived in Rwanda in 2009 looking for a “quiet place” to write his first book, Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo, but left in 2013 with a story quite unlike Lykketoft’s:

I was offered to teach a class of print journalists in Rwanda in a training program funded by the European Union and the British government and I thought this was a great way to engage with society, contribute to society and to work with some of my local colleagues. What I quickly found was that…these print Rwandan journalists were operating in a very repressive environment and often [in] doing their journalism, risking their lives.

I taught a class of 12 journalists, none of whom are practicing anymore. One of my students had been beaten into a coma for bringing up the harassment of the press in front of the president at a conference; a colleague of mine was shot dead on the same day he criticized the Rwandan president; 2 students of mine were sent to prison for many years for insulting the president; others have either fled the country or joined the presidential propaganda team out of fear. Rwandan journalists operate in an environment that is far more dangerous and at times fatal.
While in Rwanda, Sundaram focused on equipping his students with the professional journalism skills that would keep them alive. Although he never actively criticized the government, he did offer his home as temporary refuge for a student fleeing the country. However, as the repression grew, Sundaram’s students were increasingly resistant to the very skills that could help them.

I was teaching the students with the hope that one day they would find themselves in a free environment and be able to practice their profession freely, but as time went on and the government became more and more repressive, it became harder for me to reach the students with my course material. I was accused by one of my students for being pro-government because I was teaching them how to report on ordinary health issues and the student felt that the real issues in the country were political and to their credit, they were political, but I had to be very careful about what I helped them report on and I wanted them to stay safe and report more professionally.

As journalists in the country grew angrier because of the repression, their stories became more vitriolic and more explicitly political. To be fair to them, there had been systematic abuses of power and these were journalists who had seen their societies…people had been killed, people had disappeared and they had a deep sense of what the government was doing. Many of them had also lived in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994. The genocide in ‘94 was conducted in an environment which was very repressed. Any media that spoke up against the genocide was silenced. People were killed until gradually there was only one voice in society: the government’s. So when Rwandan journalists today see newspapers and media being silenced and the government’s voice growing increasingly dominant, they are aware of the incredible risk that that entails.

Is the current government opposition to free speech at all justified given that the media played such a strong role in inciting the genocide in 1994?

The media that incited the genocide in 1994 was not a free media; it was a media controlled by the government. In fact, media voices that opposed the genocide were silenced by the government. It wasn’t a free media that incited the genocide and fomented it and gave it voice, it was government controlled propaganda. In Rwanda today, the situation is very similar. There are no independent voices. Voices that criticize the government—even when they benefit the people—those voices are silenced.

Many Rwandan journalists and colleagues of mine as well are aware of the enormous risks that the silent media portends for Rwanda and they’re worried about the situation in Rwanda today. They’re of the opinion and I share this opinion that a freer media, a multiplicity of voices would protect society against extreme views taking hold. When independent voices are silenced and the government is the only voice that can speak, it becomes incredibly easy for very extreme views to take hold and that is a risk that Rwanda faces today.

Are there parallels that can be drawn between Rwanda today and post-Nazi Germany? Are there lessons to be learned?

Very different histories and very different post-genocide contexts as well, but there is certainly something to be said for the trauma of genocide. Genocide happened only 22 years ago in Rwanda and there is still a great deal of trauma that has resulted from that genocide, and I think that was similar in fact in post-Holocaust Germany as well. But I think unfortunately and with Western financing, Rwanda has gone down a path of more repression and new dictatorship, whereas in Germany, even though it took some time, there had been a gradual increase of institutions that held the executive power, that checked the powers of the executive in Germany.

What happened during the Holocaust and also during the genocide in Rwanda was a very powerful executive that took millions of people’s lives. So, the more checks and balances that there are, the better it will be for citizens and I think there are some lessons for Rwanda in how Europe has now since World War II—with the exception of what happened in the Balkans—Western Europe has largely lived peacefully for many decades now. While there are some parallels and there’s something to learn from in terms of dealing with trauma, I think the situation’s also quite distinct.

What hope do you have for Rwanda’s future?

There are many Rwandans in Rwanda today who are silent and Rwandans who are in exile abroad who do believe in a Rwanda of stronger institutions, whether of checks and balances on presidential authority. President Paul Kagame’s power is nearly absolute today, but were those Rwandan intellectuals and politicians to engage, I think that could help create a Rwanda in which there are stronger institutions and in which violence in the future is less likely.

Unfortunately, the Rwandan government today is not accountable to its own people. The only bodies it’s accountable to are Western governments who finance about half of Rwanda’s budget. I think it would take a certain act of courage on the part of these foreign donors who finance Kagame to say to the Rwandan president that he needs to sit down and dialogue with these Rwandan intellectuals and politicians and he needs to begin to build some of those institutions that have been progressively destroyed, leaving Rwanda today in which more power is concentrated in the president. I do think that there are Rwandan people who understand modern society, understand the post-genocide context and understand the constraints and the special solutions that may be needed in Rwanda today. Unfortunately, they’ve been silenced, but were they to engage, I think that would build a better Rwandan society and improve the lives of people and more importantly, reduce the risk of future violence.

The world stood by largely when the genocide happened in 1994 in Rwanda. The world did not intervene and unfortunately the world has remained silent over the last 22 years as dozens of Rwandan intellectuals, politicians, journalists, civil society activists, scholars have one by one either been killed, imprisoned, tortured or forced to flee the country and live in exile.

That has sent a very clear message to Rwandans today that should they stand up to the Rwandan government, they will not be helped, and so there are a few brave Rwandans who are still trying and there will continue to be such figures, but without any guarantee of support or protection, it is increasingly unlikely that Rwandans themselves will be the instigators of that change. The world needs to at least provide some kind of guarantee for their fundamental human rights—their basic safety and security—to create an environment in which Rwandans themselves can start that dialogue. Most Rwandans who have tried, and there have been many, have been silenced.

What is the number one misconception that people hold about Rwanda today that you would like to change?

I’m not here really to change anybody’s views or anything. My purpose in writing my book was to put on the record some of the work of these brave Rwandan journalists who stood up to the government, a very powerful government, because they thought the government was heading in a direction that was dangerous for the country. Because they stood up to the government, they suffered. Many of them, their names are not spoken in Rwanda today because these journalists and activists are seen as enemies of the state by the government. My purpose was to put on the record some of the brave work that they did and make sure that their work was not forgotten.

When I first arrived in Rwanda, I thought this was a peaceful, harmonious country and then over time I realized that the peace was not from harmony. It was a silence that had come about from fear. And that was something that was very shocking for me to realize. And I think there is a whole set of misconceptions about Rwanda today and about what it’s like to live there because people are not free to speak, and so the government speaks for them, foreigners speak for them. They are told what to say and they know what they can say safely. So there’s a great deal in fact to understand in Rwanda and in many modern dictatorships that look peaceful, that look calm, that look modern on the outside, but conceal a very terrifying world that citizens live in.

This month's 22nd anniversary of the Rwandan genocide was largely a day of praise for Rwanda's "peaceful reconstruction." Let's look ahead to 2017's International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda as a time to acknowledge the hostility that will continue to lurk beneath the surface until the world chooses to see it.

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Wednesday 6 April 2016

It’s a Vulnerable World: March 2016

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Android phones, iPhones, public Wi-Fi, oh my! Is anything safe anymore? March’s vulnerabilities have us convinced that it’s always the right time for a VPN and secure messaging:

Android phones: Not only have recent reports revealed that only 10% of Android phones are encrypted (as compared to 95% of iPhones), Kaspersky Lab has found Android operating systems 4.4.4 and earlier to be at risk for a “Triada” of malware: Ztorg, Gorpo and Leech. Nikita Buchka referred to the malware as “a new stage in the evolution of Android-based threats. They are the first widespread malware with the potential to escalate their privileges on most devices.” Triada has the ability to download, install, launch and modify applications.

iPhone encryption: Johns Hopkins researchers found a way to decrypt photos and videos sent via iMessage, a vulnerability that has since been patched with the release of iOS 9.3. The flaw that remains unfixed, however, is the vulnerability used by the FBI to break into San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s phone. Given that we can’t fix what we don’t know, this is one FBI secret that leaves us all less secure.

In-Flight Wi-Fi: Journalist Steven Petrow recently took advantage of American Airlines’ Gogo in-flight Internet to catch up on work while in the air, only to find that he was the one taken advantage of: following the flight, a fellow passenger confessed to hacking into and viewing the online communications of Petrow and several others on board. For Petrow, it was a lesson learned in always using a VPN when accessing public Wi-Fi.

The Right to Be Forgotten: Europe’s Right to Be Forgotten has been extended to all Google searches within the continent, but remains no match for searches conducted while logged into a non-European VPN server, as the protection does not extend elsewhere. In response, France’s CNIL, a privacy authority, fined Google 100,000 euros: “For people residing in France to effectively exercise their right to be delisted, it must be applied to the entire processing operation, i.e., to all of the search engine’s extensions.”

Latin America and the Caribbean:
“Cybersecurity: Are We Ready in Latin America and the Caribbean?”, a study by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States and Oxford University, has answered its own question with a resounding no. Of the 32 countries evaluated, only 7—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay—have reached even an intermediate level of preparation against cyberattacks, while 16 entirely lack a coordinated capacity to respond to cyberattacks.

Social Media in Turkey: Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites were banned in Turkey following a mid-March Ankara bombing that killed 37 people, but this is one country that has grown accustomed to finding workarounds for government censorship: Suraj Sharma tweeted, “Having to use a VPN again to access Twitter and other social media. Sad, very sad. Information doesn’t kill, never has. #Turkey.”

Social Media in Iran: In Iran, Facebook and Twitter are banned…except for when they’re not. “Of course officials, even lower-ranking ones, use VPNs. A friend of mine, who works in the Iranian parliament, told me that he had seen members of parliament use VPNs to access social networks and forbidden news sites. It’s crazy. These are the very same lawmakers who voted to ban social networks and decided on the penalties for using VPNs,” reported Iranian cybersecurity specialist Amin Sabeti. For everyone else, illegal internet access is punishable by up to a year in prison.

Women on dating websites: 11 South Africa-based Nigerians were arrested for involvement in an operation targeting divorced and widowed women, aged 40-60, on sites such as and The ruse involved a “United States soldier” who, following months of online courtship, would ask for money to cover a medical emergency. Before being shutdown, the operation collected over 70 million South African rand.

Motor vehicles: The United States FBI and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reminded car owners that their vehicles are only growing “increasingly vulnerable” to attack: “Modern motor vehicles often include new connected vehicle technologies that aim to provide benefits such as added safety features, improved fuel economy, and greater overall convenience. However, with this increased connectivity, it is important that consumers and manufacturers maintain awareness of potential cyber security threats.” Meanwhile, German researchers have their own concerns to share, specifically with ease of breaking into vehicles with keyless entry. The health insurance web portal for Americans without workplace coverage experienced 316 cybersecurity incidents between October 2013 and March 2015. Although to date no sensitive information has been leaked, remains vulnerable to attack.

Everyone!: Not only are we surveilled in our daily lives, that surveillance is so readily accessible that it has found its way into the art of Dries Depoorter. The Belgian artist’s exhibits include footage of Canadian jaywalkers, the recordings of American traffic cameras and side-by-side comparisons of Tinder and LinkedIn photos.

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Tuesday 5 April 2016

Farewell, SumRando Gold; Hello, Unlimited Data for 6 USD/Month

Our relocation to Mauritius brings exciting changes to our SumRando VPN plans and subscriptions. As of April 1, we have retired the SumRando Gold VPN plan. We will continue to offer our other three accounts:

  • Anonymous: 1GB, no registration required
  • Free: 1GB with email registration
  • Platinum: unlimited GB with registration and payment method

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    All users with active Gold VPN plans will continue to have use of the Gold plan throughout their paid subscription period. Plans will then be automatically downgraded to our Free plan unless users choose to upgrade to Platinum. We are also introducing new Platinum VPN subscription terms, making unlimited data available for only 6 USD per month:

    • 1 month Platinum plan: 10 USD per month, billed every month
    • 6 month Platinum plan: 7 USD per month, billed every 6 months at 42 USD
    • 12 month Platinum plan: 6 USD per month, billed every 12 months at 72 USD

    All plan adjustments can be made via your account, but please contact us at with any questions or concerns.

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