Researchers Catch Cyber-Espionage Groups After Hackers Infect Their Own Systems

A cyber-espionage group who is believed to be tied to the Iranian Government, and has targeted over 1,600 defense officials, diplomats, researchers, journalists and more, may have just landed themselves in their own hacking trap. The group known as “Rocket Kitten” has been going since 2014, and for quite some time, their attacks have been analyzed by security teams trying to not only track them down, but to also prevent further security breaches. However, a team of researchers at Check Point Software Technologies caught a lucky break when they obtained access to the attacker’s command-and-control server.

It’s reported that Rocket Kitten is not very sophisticated, but rather persistent with their attacks. Using social engineering and phishing attacks to infect targets with malware. Researchers say the team left a major weakness in their infrastructure, allowing them to extract messages between members of the hacking group, as well as a list of over 1,600 intended victims in Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Iran, the Netherlands and Israel, that were targeted between August 2014 and 2015.

“It seems that the attackers did not take into consideration the possible compromise of their own command-and-control server and have infected their own computers with their custom keylogger-type malware, most likely for testing purposes.” reported CIO

By infecting their own computers with the malware they’ve been using to attack others, researchers believe they have been able to identify an Iranian software engineer who developed the tools for Rocket Kitten.

“In this case, as in other previously reported cases, it can be assumed that an official body recruited local hackers and diverted them from defacing web sites to targeted espionage at the service of their country,” the Check Point researchers said. “Such inexperienced personnel with limited training often lack operational security awareness.” they added.

Well there you go. If you’re going to breaking computer security, learn how to apply it in the first place.

Image source

 

Secret Apology Letter Reveals CIA Spied on US Senate

The CIA didn’t spy on the US Senate. It said as much, in a rather aggressive manner, while accusing the Senate of impropriety by even suggesting such a thing, throwing out the Inspector General’s report on a potential breach in the process. The CIA even staged an in-house investigation of itself, clearing itself of any wrongdoing. However, an unsent letter written by the CIA, apologising to the Senate for spying on them, has come to light thanks to a Freedom of Information request. The request, issued by serial FIOA abuser Jason Leopold, has made the embarrassing letter – which was never signed or sent, but was addressed from CIA Director John Brennan – was made available by accident, according to VICE News:

After VICE News received the documents, the CIA contacted us and said Brennan’s draft letter had been released by mistake. The agency asked that we refrain from posting it. 

We declined the CIA’s request.

Leopold is the scourge of US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, stoking their ire with his serial FIOA applications. The Office of Net Assessment, a Pentagon think-tank, even tried to bribe Leopold to get him to stop making FOIA requests. He, of course, refused.

And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn’t for that pesky Leopold.

Thank you TechDirt and VICE for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

US, UK, New Zealand and France – Who’s Spying On Who?

Over the past few years, people have been told more and more about countries which have been part of or are actively spying on one another. The biggest revelation coming when it was revealed by Edward Snowden the extent at which the American government was spying not only on foreign entities but also on their own citizens. If the latest reports are correct it would seem France has joined the list of countries spying on foreign entities.

In a report from the L’Observateur, it claims that the french agency DGSE tapped several undersea fiber cables in an attempt to gain access to the information transmitted via them. This action was conducted and completed with cooperation from both the telecom supplier Alcatel-lucent and the operator Orange.

The received information was then shared with GCHQ, the British security agency responsible for digital and online security. If these reports are confirmed it could be a little trouble with GCHQ, given that they also received information from the American’s PRISM program. The PRISM program is reported to have recorded the conversations and communications of several high-ranking French officials including the President himself but also tried to access and gather all information relating to French companies which were valued over $200 million. PRISM then shared the information with the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

It seems that everyone is shocked when they find out  that someone spied on them, but then it all changes when it turns out they were spying on that country at the same time. I’ve lost track of who’s spying on who and sharing that information with what country.

Thank you Engadget for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Julian Assange Compares Surveillance State to a Malevolent God

In an exclusive interview with Byline, Julian Assange spoke about the evolution from the surveillance state to the surveillance society, in which communities are complicit in being observed and reported on, and how it has become so omnipresent and controls citizens through fear of their terror of its vengeful eye.

Seung-yoon Lee, CEO and Co-founder of Byline, conducted the interview with Assange from his place of exile, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Assange, of course, cannot leave the embassy under threat of being arrested and extradited to Sweden, where he faces accusations of sexual misconduct, but suspects that Swedish authorities will hand him over to the US, where he is wanted for espionage.

Assange compares our “surveillance society” to communist East Germany, where its people were so afraid of the state’s watchful eye that they would inform on their neighbours:

“We’ve increasingly become accepting of the surveillance that exists at all levels of society.”

“At the level of national security this is still fresh. Other national intelligence agencies engage in bulk Internet monitoring. But over time there will arise an acceptance that this is simply how society is – as has already arisen with other forms of surveillance. At that point, society develops a type of self-censorship, with the knowledge that surveillance exists – a self-censorship that is even expressed when people communicate with each other privately.”

That was the situation in East Germany, not because of mass electronics surveillance, but because up to 10 per cent of people were at some stage of their lives informants for the state. A double language evolved where no one was saying what they really meant. And conformity was produced because of this low-level fear.

He then draws comparison with the Abrahamic God, casting the surveillance state as a malevolent deity that is everywhere, always listening, and constantly judging:

“Now finally Western civilization has produced a god, the god of mass surveillance. How is it like a god? It’s a little bit Abrahamic. If you look at most definitions, a god is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. In particular, god knows when you are doing something that you shouldn’t be doing and whether you are playing according to god’s rules. The conception of national security agencies and mass surveillance is that the overwhelming majority of communications are surveilled upon. Even conversations happening in person may be recorded through an Android phone, or through other electronic gadgets that are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Maybe your friend, although you just talked to them in person, can gossip over electronic media about what you said.”

Is there hope of breaking free of mass surveillance? Assange certainly thinks so, pointing to the democratic movements in South America as the way forward:

“In the past 10 years there has been this Orwellian rise in power of national security agencies like GCHQ and others. But it is precisely this period that has also seen the growing independence and democratization of Latin America – which is a US backyard. At the same time that the landscape gets Orwellian, with total surveillance power, in Latin America you have increasing independence away from the US.”

He also asserts the size and power of the large institutions that conduct mass surveillance can be to their detriment:

“They are so large they can’t react quickly. A concrete example is when we rescued Edward Snowden from Hong Kong. It was the largest intelligence manhunt the world has ever seen. We were going head to head with the National Security Agency. The Department of Justice, the White House, the CIA were all providing support for the NSA. I was in this embassy under intense surveillance myself. Through our knowledge of cryptography we managed to elude that surveillance. It is absurd to think that such a small international publisher – WikiLeaks – specialising in publishing things about war crimes, corruption, and intelligence agencies could go into a very clearly defined head to head contest against organisations with a combined budget of over a hundred billion dollars. But we did. I guess we have some brave and intelligent staff. But I think it is really that we are able to move much faster. We already understood the environment. We understood these organisations and how they behave. We have some ability to communicate in secret.”

The first part of the interview is available now on Byline.

Image courtesy of CoinDesk.

CIA Couldn’t Use NSA’s Surveillance Program as Analysts Didn’t Know it Existed

A 2009 CIA document – released courtesy of a victorious Freedom of Information lawsuit filed against the US Department of Justice and published by The New York Times – has revealed the US external intelligence service did not use the NSA’s controversial STELLAR WIND surveillance program, which allowed the government warrantless access to private data that it collected en masse, as CIA analysts were not even aware that it existed.

Dated June 2009, the document from the CIA Inspector General (IG), the intelligence service’s internal watchdog, though heavily redacted, claims that the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP, aka “The Program”) was so secretive that only top-level officials had access to it, leaving “CIA analysts and targeting officers” in the dark.

According to the CIA IG report, three “sets of data” were collected under PSP:

The first set included the content of individually targeted telephone and e-mail communications. The second set consisted of telephone dialing information—the date, time, and duration of calls; the telephone number of the caller; and the number receiving the call—collected in bulk [REDACTED]. The third data set consisted of e-mail transactional data [REDACTED] collected in bulk [REDACTED].

The reports goes on to outline exactly why the CIA did not use data from PSP – because most were unaware it was there, and the few who did had no training as to how to access and use it:

Several factors hindered the CIA in making full use of the capabilities of the PSP. Many CIA officers told us that too few CIA personnel at the working level were read into the PSP. [REDACTED] officials told us that CIA and targeting officers who were read in had too many competing priorities and too many other available information sources and analytic tools—many of which were more easily accessed and timely—to fully utilize the PSP. CIA officers also told us that the PSP would have been more fully utilized if and targeting officers had obtained a better understanding of the program’s capabilities. Many CIA officers noted that there was insufficient training and legal guidance concerning the program’s capabilities and the use of PSP-derived information. The factors that hindered the CIA in making full use of the PSP might have been mitigated if the CIA had designated an individual at an appropriate level of managerial authority, who possessed knowledge of both the PSP and CIA counterterrorism activities, to be responsible and accountable for overseeing CIA participation in the program.

The CIA did not implement procedures to assess the usefulness of the product of the PSP and did not routinely document whether particular PSP reporting had contributed to successful counterterrorism operations.

So, the CIA was reprieved from being sullied by reprehensibly unethical breaches of others privacy through sheer ignorance. That’s something, I suppose.

Thank you Ars Technica for providing us with this information.

Wikipedia Sues the NSA

 

Wikipedia has filed a lawsuit against the US National Security Agency (NSA) over the anti-constitutional nature of its internet mass surveillance program, as revealed by whistleblower and former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

The suit, which also names the US Department of Justice (DoJ) as a defendant, accuses the government organisations of breaching the First and Fifth Amendments of the US Constitution, designed to protect free speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure, respectively.

“By tapping the backbone of the Internet, the NSA is straining the backbone of democracy,” the Wikimedia Foundation’s Executive Director, Lila Tretikov, wrote in a related blog post. “Wikipedia is founded on the freedoms of expression, inquiry, and information. By violating our users’ privacy, the NSA is threatening the intellectual freedom that is central to people’s ability to create and understand knowledge.”

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also wrote an accompanying op-ed piece for The New York Times, published the same day as the lawsuit was filed. Wales argues that the NSA’s “pervasive surveillance” of Wikipedia visitors is an act that “stifles freedom of expression and the free exchange of knowledge.”

Wales continued, “Whenever someone overseas views or edits a Wikipedia page, it’s likely that the N.S.A. is tracking that activity—including the content of what was read or typed, as well as other information that can be linked to the person’s physical location and possible identity,” Wales and Tretikov wrote. “These activities are sensitive and private: They can reveal everything from a person’s political and religious beliefs to sexual orientation and medical conditions.”

Wikipedia’s lawsuit against the NSA has been filed in partnership with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Source: National Journal

Uncovered Hacking Plot Points to China Buying Stolen US Military Data

The recent news reveals that the US authorities have charged a Chinese business man with hacking into the Boeing computer systems and other firms with large defense contacts, stealing their data and then selling it to China.

Mr. Su Bin has been arrested last month in Canada after being accused of working with two other suspects to steal data about military projects amongst other similar data. The prosecutors have stated that Mr Su was mostly targeting information regarding fighter jets, military cargo aircraft and weapons. The information does not come as a big surprise, given that the 2013 reports have revealed that industrial spying from China is continuously becoming a threat. Though no specific proof has been found that the Chinese government is involved in Mr Su’s case, the US still accuses China of systematically stealing American high-tech data.

“We have repeatedly made it clear that the United States will continue using all the tools our government possesses to strengthen cyber-security and confront cyber-crime,” spokesman Marc Raimondi said.

It is reported that Mr. Su runs a Chinese aviation technology company, having its office in Canada. On June 28, he apparently was detained while attempting to gain Canadian citizenship, being accused of attempting to sell the stolen data to state-owned firms in China. While the US justice department remains “deeply concerned about cyber-enabled theft of sensitive information”, Boeing has apparently released a statement in which the company admits it was co-operating with the US authorities to uncover industrial espionage hacking attempts against the US companies.

Thank you BBC for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of BBC

Edward Snowden Reveals he was Trained as a Spy and Not an Analyst

After leaking information about NSA activities and other secret plots, Edward Snowden makes another statement to the press. This time around, he reveals his own past relations with the secret service and what he actually did when working for them.

Edward Snowden revealed that he was actually trained to be a spy and not as an analyst. In a press statement he mentions that he had worked undercover for the CIA and NSA in different places around the world while pretending to have an assigned job and even a fake identity. He also admits that the secret service denies these allegations while attempting to use a position is his career to ‘distract’ and hide his true work experience.

Snowden added that he had also worked as a lecturer at the Joint Counterintelligence Training Academy, where he states to have developed sources and methods for keeping information and people secure in the most hostile and dangerous environments around the world.

Having been charged with espionage and revoking his passport, Edward Snowden hasn’t been able to leave Russia, where he sought refuge. However, he continues to unveil how the US secret service support mass, warrantless surveillance while civil libertarians, technology companies and others oppose it, emphasising the lack of transparency.

Thank you CNN for providing us with this information

China Expresses Strong Dissatisfaction Over US Accusations


The Chinese is not liking United States’ alleged accusation and has expressed “resolution opposition” and strong dissatisfaction. U.S. accused China of cyber espionage by using the Chinese origin IT products to spy on United States’ internal operations within the government and its organizations, such as products made by Huawei, ZTE and also involving Lenovo in some form. It is also noted earlier that Sprint who will be acquiring a Japanese based carrier that it will comply by not using Chinese origin IT hardware. Ever since, 2 of the world’s top economies have been mudslinging each other ever.

China points out that the accusations made by United States has no grounds as the only evidence is nothing more than series of attacks on U.S. of which half of it originated from China.

The new provision that was introduced some days back which will be signed as a law on Thursday will stop NASA and even Department of Justice and Department of Commerce will not be allowed any IT hardware made in China, unless there is a federal approval from law enforcement officials before acquiring them from China.

It is estimated by U.S. Congressional Research Service that Chinese advanced IT imports to United costs $129 Billion. Stopping this also could violate World Trade Organization’s rules, but on the other hand, China did not sign the agreement setting international rules for government procurement with WTO, therefore points to the possibility of the Chinese trying to repair the situation to be futile.

It is noted in China Dail and The People’s Daily that Shen Danyang, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce, China that the the bill that United States drafted sends a ‘very wrong signal’. He also said,”This will directly impact partnerships of Chinese enterprises and American business as they conduct regular trade. This abuse of so-called national security measures is unfair to Chinese enterprises, and extends the discriminatory practice of presumption of guilt. This severely damages mutual trust between the U.S. and China.”

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Kei who urged U.S. to abandon the law said that the bill uses internet security as an excuse to take discriminatory steps against Chinese companies.

Source: Reuters