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Posts Tagged ‘hacking’

The FBI’s war on Anonymous

May 1, 2014 2 comments

FBI logoThe FBI announced yesterday “additional attempted computer hacking charges and 18 counts of cyberstalking” for Fidel Salinas. That now brings the total charges to 44 – each of which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. This alleged hacker is now facing 440 years in prison.

According to the allegations, between December 23-29, 2011, Salinas had the intent to harass and intimidate a female victim. Allegedly, he repeatedly e-mailed her, attempted to gain unauthorized access to her website, made submissions through a contact form on that site, and tried to open user accounts without her consent.
Alleged ‘Anonymous’ Computer Hacker Charged with 18 Counts of Cyberstalking

440 years? Really?

anonymous logoThe clue, perhaps, lies in the title of the announcement: “alleged ‘Anonymous’ hacker…”.

It is not illegal to be a member of Anonymous – so why describe him that way? Why not simply say, “Fidel Salinas Charged with 18 Counts of Cyberstalking”?

The FBI announcement goes on to say,

Salinas allegedly participated in an online chat room for the Operation Anti-Security faction of Anonymous and attempted to enter the IRC Operations server for Anonymous. According to the charges, after his alleged attempt to hack his way into the Hidalgo County web server, he posted a profanity-laced rant on his Facebook page that ended with a quote used by Anonymous members: “We do not forgive, we do not forget, divide by zero we fall, expect us.”

Again, I’m not sure what is illegal here, apart from the attempted (alleged) hack “into the Hidalgo County web server”. It is possible that he posted something illegal in the ‘profanity-laced rant’ (if, for example, it falls foul of ‘hate’ laws); but profanity itself and the freedom to say ‘We do not forgive, we do not forget, divide by zero we fall, expect us’ is, I believe, protected by the US constitution and therefore perfectly legal.

Well that's another few zeros on the budget...

Well that’s another few zeros on the budget…

So why bring it up?

There can be only one reason. The FBI is continuing with its nuclear option against hackers in general and Anonymous in particular. This is a terror campaign designed to terrify existing and potential hackers, and turn public opinion against Anonymous.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do not condone hacking in any way whatsoever – except of course when conducted by the FBI, NSA and/or GCHQ in pursuit of our national interests; in which case it is perfectly legal, laudable and a Good Thing. Obviously.

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Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

Censorship is alive and well in Britain today

April 5, 2014 1 comment

Last week I proposed an experiment. Index on Censorship had discussed what it calls ‘censorship by omission’; suggesting that a form of censorship exists in Britain through simple lack of information. This is censorship by omission rather than censorship by suppression.

At the same time, Der Spiegel published details from the Snowden files indicating that GCHQ had been involved in hacking German satellite communications companies. Glenn Greenwald described it in The Intercept:

One undated document shows how British GCHQ operatives hacked into the computer servers of the German satellite communications providers Stellar and Cetel, and also targeted IABG, a security contractor and communications equipment provider with close ties to the German government. The document outlines how GCHQ identified these companies’ employees and customers, making lists of emails that identified network engineers and chief executives. It also suggests that IABG’s networks may have been “looked at” by the NSA’s Network Analysis Center.

My ‘experiment’ was simple. We know that the UK government has been trying to suppress reporting on GCHQ revelations through its involvement in the physical destruction of hard disks at The Guardian. So, I suggested, “Over the next few days it will be worth seeing just how much coverage this very major, very important story actually generates in the British mainstream press.”

The result? None.

It’s not a scientific experiment because I haven’t read all of the British mainstream national press from cover to cover since that time. Instead, this morning I used Google and searched on keywords from the Greenwald paragraph:

GCHQ Stellar Cetel IABG germany satellite communications

Searching the web got 3390 returns. In the top four pages (that’s all I checked) there is no single national British newspaper included. (My ‘experiment’ came in at #10, last on the first page.)

Searching the news had just five hits: Register, Help Net Security, IT News, TIME and Engadget.

Nothing whatsoever from any of the British national press.

The conclusion has to be that Britain suffers under a regime of censorship by omission. What we don’t know is how much of this ‘omission’ is effected by government pressure, nor whether Google has been persuaded to reduce the search rankings of any published articles — making it actually censorship by suppression.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

Britain: a land of censorship by omission

March 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Let’s all try a little experiment.

Index on Censorship warned today about what it calls ‘censorship by omission’ in the UK. The suggestion is not that the British are told what to think by the UK press, but that they are controlled over what they are allowed to think about. It suggests that serious news can be omitted from print while newspapers guide their readers to less important, or even old, news.

The British news spectrum was recently obsessed with Labour politicians Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt, who worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties (now ‘Liberty’) in the 1970s. That council granted affiliate status to the now-banned Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). The Daily Mail made a huge splash about its PIE investigation in February, despite uncovering no new information. That paper alone had reported the same story in 1983, 2009, 2012 and 2013. Eventually the BBC, online world and print media all covered the controversy, meaning more worthy issues lost precedence.
British news blind spots: Omission and obscurity

The result, warns Index on Censorship, is a form of censorship by omission:

We’re denied investigation or campaigning on vital issues because nobody knows they exist.

So here’s our experiment. Let’s see over the next few days just how much coverage we get on the Snowden files released today by Der Spiegel. Quoted by Glenn Greenwald’s new publication, The Intercept, this includes:

One undated document shows how British GCHQ operatives hacked into the computer servers of the German satellite communications providers Stellar and Cetel, and also targeted IABG, a security contractor and communications equipment provider with close ties to the German government. The document outlines how GCHQ identified these companies’ employees and customers, making lists of emails that identified network engineers and chief executives. It also suggests that IABG’s networks may have been “looked at” by the NSA’s Network Analysis Center.

The ultimate aim of GCHQ was to obtain information that could help the spies infiltrate “teleport” satellites sold by these companies that send and receive data over the Internet. The document notes that GCHQ hoped to identify “access chokepoints” as part of a wider effort alongside partner spy agencies to “look at developing possible access opportunities” for surveillance.

In other words, infiltrating these companies was viewed as a means to an end for the British agents. Their ultimate targets were likely the customers. Cetel’s customers, for instance, include governments that use its communications systems to connect to the Internet in Africa and the Middle East. Stellar provides its communications systems to a diverse range of customers that could potentially be of interest to the spies – including multinational corporations, international organizations, refugee camps, and oil drilling platforms.
Der Spiegel: NSA Put Merkel on List of 122 Targeted Leaders

So let’s be very clear here. This is a direct accusation that GCHQ has been hacking into the telecommunications products of friendly companies in allied nations. Over the next few days it will be worth seeing just how much coverage this very major, very important story actually generates in the British mainstream press.

Here’s my prediction — and I genuinely hope I am proved very wrong: there will be serious coverage in the Guardian and Independent (read by very few who don’t already know that GCHQ is hack-crazy and law-breaking); some coverage in the Telegraph (read by hardly anyone); dismissive, brief coverage by the BBC; and preciously little else.

Let’s see.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

Britain continues to hide GCHQ lawlessness

December 12, 2013 Leave a comment

The evidence that GCHQ is engaged in illegal activity is inescapable.

Snowden called GCHQ worse than the US. It was almost certainly GCHQ rather than the NSA that hacked the Belgian telecoms company BelgaCom. And we know that GCHQ has tapped more than 200 backbone fibre cables.

Today we learn of a new document that shows that GCHQ and the Swedish agency FRA, worked together to hack unknown, but probably Russian targets in conjunction with the NSA’s Quantum injection program (the document says, “Thank Sweden for its continued work on the Russian target, and underscore the primary role that FRA plays as a leading partner to work the Russian target, including Russian leadership, energy,… and… and counterintelligence”). In relation to GCHQ and Quantum, this document says, “Last month, we received a message from our Swedish partner that GCI-IQ received FRA QUANTUM tips that led to 100 shots, five of which were successfully redirected to the GCHQ server.”

So GCHQ breaks British and European laws. There can be no doubt.

So what does Cameron do? Does his government call for an investigation? Does it demand that its intelligence agency curb its activities? Does it hellaslike.

  • It declares GCHQ activity legal.
  • It arrests, detains and confiscates the computer of the boyfriend of a journalist as he stops over at Heathrow on the way from Germany to Brazil.
  • It demands and oversees the physical destruction of a newspaper’s computers.
  • It refuses to allow the EU to put spying on the table in discussions with the US.
  • It threatens the editor of a newspaper with prosecution under the Terrorist Act.

And now one more act that no longer surprises. German MEP and Green politician Jan Philipp Albrecht issued the following statement today about a possible video hearing with Richard [oops! corrected, 13/12/2013] Edward Snowden:

The political groups – except the ECR group of British Tories… agreed on a possible hearing with Edward Snowden via video recording. They paved the way for answers of Edward Snowden to the European Parliament… For the Members of the European Parliament, his answers would be an important step up to substantial fact-finding and to draw consequences from mass surveillance.

True to form, Britain does not want anyone, including its own people, to know what GCHQ does, and which laws it breaks, in their name.

Dear Mr Cameron, you have turned the United Kingdom into a fascist state. I hope you are proud of yourself. I am ashamed of you.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

FUD marketing: a stick generated by the industry and wielded by governments

November 15, 2012 Leave a comment

One of the things that worries me is the steady stream of inflated or unprovable statistics showing how dire the cyber threat has become. I am not alone in this concern. Ross Anderson and his team at the Cambridge University Computer Lab famously objected to statistics prepared by Detica for the Cabinet Office. On being invited by the Ministry of Defence to come up with their own defensible statistics, they produced a report showing that, statistically, government would achieve much better security by catching the crooks than by applying increasingly more expensive and sophisticated security systems.

But government doesn’t want to do that. As far as government is concerned, security is achieved by control. Having control of the internet and control over the internet’s users will provide the security they want (and the megalomaniac satisfaction they crave).

It is made worse by a huge security industry that can only survive if we buy its products. And the more afraid we are, the more money we will spend and the richer they will get.

So the poor bloody user is caught in an inescapable pincer: both the government and industry want us to be afraid – and horrific statistics and hyped up warnings created by industry and spread by government will do just that.

Here’s an announcement that came out the other day from NCC. Headline: “Hacking attempts to exceed one billion in the final quarter of 2012”. That’s pretty scary.

Rob Cotton, CEO of NCC Group, comments later in the announcement,

We’ve had copious initiatives and plans announced in the last quarter from bodies and governments aimed at addressing this issue, but the urgency just doesn’t seem to correlate with the growing threat… but these initiatives alone are not going to solve the problem. Public and private sector must work together, strategically and tactically, if we are going to be able to realistically defend against a billion hacks a quarter.”

Notice two things: government initiatives (including, I assume, the Communications Bill and GCHQ’s Incident Response Scheme and the Digital Economy Act and RIPA and Baroness Howe’s internet censorship – and that’s just in the UK) are not yet enough to tackle the hacking that has suddenly morphed from ‘attempts’ to “a billion [actual] hacks a quarter”.

A hack is generally speaking the unauthorised access of a computer. According to Mr Cotton, we are currently suffering from more than 333,000,000 every month (or more than 10,000,000 every day). Clearly the government must pass more laws and we must spend more money with the security industry so that we don’t suffer another 10 million hacks tomorrow.

It is only at the very end of the announcement we find the rider, “Stats do not necessarily indicate successful access, just unauthorised attempts.” On this basis, the quoted figure will include automated port scans. (I remember watching such scans click up on my PC at one every few seconds and being stopped by a very early version of ZoneAlarm – say, 5 per minute or 300 per hour or 7200 per day or around or 216,000 per month or around 648,000 per quarter – just for little me and all stopped by my little free firewall.) Add to this every spam email that carries a link to an exploit kit – which can be described as a hacking attempt – and suddenly the one billion figure seems rather conservative but not particularly frightening.

But this is what government and those parts of the security industry close to government do. Its called FUD marketing – they get what they want by disseminating fear, uncertainty and doubt; and they do that by huge, poorly defined and not often defended, scary figures and statistics. If you think we’re being manipulated, it’s because we are.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

Shoe-horning news to fit the product

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

As a journalist, an endless source of amusement is the contortions of both reality and logic employed by vendors trying to shoe-horn an event – real or pretended – into an endorsement of their own product. Take this I received today from a senior executive in a major security firm in relation to ‘Hacktivist Bonfire Night Attacks’. (Which ones were they exactly? A few hundred physical protestors turned up in response to a call from AnonUKIre on 5 November, but the UK will always suffer from the legendary apathy of the Brits – almost 2 millennia ago, Tacitus wrote, “The Britons themselves bear cheerfully the conscription, the taxes, and the other burdens imposed on them by the Empire.”)

Anyway, this guy told me (and a hundred other journos), “The recent security breaches are no surprise, given that hacktivist groups are always seeking media attention around significant political events such as the US election…” First point, get the PR to substitute ‘elections’ for ‘Bonfire Night’ for the UK journos.

Then comes the next paragraph: “Organizations need to be vigilant because these threats aren’t usually easy to forecast.” But didn’t he just say that they were no surprise…?

It’s all rounded off, of course, by the inevitable advert. “Layering strong security in the forms… [of our products]” is the solution.

This basic format is repeated several times every day: vague threats followed by far-fetched solutions.

I think the main problem is that many companies and some PRs have not realized that times have changed. Regardless of their size, they no longer create the news, and certainly can’t control it. News now mostly comes from the blogs of those concerned, and is disseminated by Twitter, not PRs. All that vendors can do is add value to the news. Without adding that value they’re wasting their time – and more importantly, mine.

Categories: All, Security News

Recent stories on Infosecurity, featuring Trend Micro, phishing for Apples, NullCrew and more…

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment

A few of my recent stories on Infosecurity Magazine over the last couple of days…

Peter the Great beats Sun Tzu in cybercrime
Despite the hoohaa about the ‘Chinese cyberthreat’ (in reality, read east Asia), Russia’s Peter the Great (in reality, read east Europe) is beating Sun Tzu in modern cyber wargames. Eastern Europe has better cybercriminals than eastern Asia.

Beware of iPhone delivery phishes
iPhone pre-orders are now showing a 3-4 week shipping estimate. Since Apple announced that 2 million pre-orders were sold for the iPhone 5 in just 24 hours, delivery delays are not likely to disappear quickly.

NullCrew: the principled hacker group?
In a wide-ranging interview broadcast over online Spreaker radio but conducted probably via IRC, UK Anon Winston Smith has been talking to Null, the leader of the NullCrew hacking group.

Quantum Key Distribution takes to the air
An aircraft in flight has successfully transmitted quantum encryption keys to a ground station, bringing closer the time when satellites can be used to provide a theoretically (allegedly) secure communications network.

YouTube declines to remove Mohammad video clip
Asked by the White House to reconsider whether the infamous Mohammad video clip is in violation of its terms of service, Google has replied that it is not. Although it is blocking the clip in Egypt, Libya, Indonesia and India, this, says Google, is in keeping with local laws.

AlienVault doxes the man behind the PlugX RAT
AlienVault has been tracking the PlugX remote access trojan for some months, and following extensive detective work has now uncovered enough information to name the person behind it.