Previously I have written about the Swedish-owned Swiss-based cryptographic hardware company: Crypto AG. It was a CIA-owned Cold War operation for decades. Today it is called Crypto International, still based in Switzerland but owned by a Swedish company.
It’s back in the news:
Late last week, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said she had canceled a meeting with her Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis slated for this month after Switzerland placed an export ban on Crypto International, a Swiss-based and Swedish-owned cybersecurity company.
The ban was imposed while Swiss authorities examine long-running and explosive claims that a previous incarnation of Crypto International, Crypto AG, was little more than a front for U.S. intelligence-gathering during the Cold War.
Linde said the Swiss ban was stopping “goods” — which experts suggest could include cybersecurity upgrades or other IT support needed by Swedish state agencies — from reaching Sweden.
She told public broadcaster SVT that the meeting with Cassis was “not appropriate right now until we have fully understood the Swiss actions.”
EDITED TO ADD (10/13): Lots of information on Crypto AG.
Posted on October 6, 2020 at 6:11 AM •
The Washington Post is reporting on an internal CIA report about its “Vault 7” security breach:
The breach — allegedly committed by a CIA employee — was discovered a year after it happened, when the information was published by WikiLeaks, in March 2017. The anti-secrecy group dubbed the release “Vault 7,” and U.S. officials have said it was the biggest unauthorized disclosure of classified information in the CIA’s history, causing the agency to shut down some intelligence operations and alerting foreign adversaries to the spy agency’s techniques.
The October 2017 report by the CIA’s WikiLeaks Task Force, several pages of which were missing or redacted, portrays an agency more concerned with bulking up its cyber arsenal than keeping those tools secure. Security procedures were “woefully lax” within the special unit that designed and built the tools, the report said.
Without the WikiLeaks disclosure, the CIA might never have known the tools had been stolen, according to the report. “Had the data been stolen for the benefit of a state adversary and not published, we might still be unaware of the loss,” the task force concluded.
The task force report was provided to The Washington Post by the office of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who has pressed for stronger cybersecurity in the intelligence community. He obtained the redacted, incomplete copy from the Justice Department.
It’s all still up on WikiLeaks.
Posted on June 18, 2020 at 6:34 AM •
Joshua Schulte, the CIA employee standing trial for leaking the Wikileaks Vault 7 CIA hacking tools, maintains his innocence. And during the trial, a lot of shoddy security and sysadmin practices are coming out:
All this raises a question, though: just how bad is the CIA’s security that it wasn’t able to keep Schulte out, even accounting for the fact that he is a hacking and computer specialist? And the answer is: absolutely terrible.
The password for the Confluence virtual machine that held all the hacking tools that were stolen and leaked? That’ll be 123ABCdef. And the root login for the main DevLAN server? mysweetsummer.
It actually gets worse than that. Those passwords were shared by the entire team and posted on the group’s intranet. IRC chats published during the trial even revealed team members talking about how terrible their infosec practices were, and joked that CIA internal security would go nuts if they knew. Their justification? The intranet was restricted to members of the Operational Support Branch (OSB): the elite programming unit that makes the CIA’s hacking tools.
The jury returned no verdict on the serious charges. He was convicted of contempt and lying to the FBI; a mistrial on everything else.
Posted on March 10, 2020 at 6:18 AM •
One follow-on to the story of Crypto AG being owned by the CIA: this interview with a Washington Post reporter. The whole thing is worth reading or listening to, but I was struck by these two quotes at the end:
…in South America, for instance, many of the governments that were using Crypto machines were engaged in assassination campaigns. Thousands of people were being disappeared, killed. And I mean, they’re using Crypto machines, which suggests that the United States intelligence had a lot of insight into what was happening. And it’s hard to look back at that history now and see a lot of evidence of the United States going to any real effort to stop it or at least or even expose it.
To me, the history of the Crypto operation helps to explain how U.S. spy agencies became accustomed to, if not addicted to, global surveillance. This program went on for more than 50 years, monitoring the communications of more than 100 countries. I mean, the United States came to expect that kind of penetration, that kind of global surveillance capability. And as Crypto became less able to deliver it, the United States turned to other ways to replace that. And the Snowden documents tell us a lot about how they did that.
Posted on March 6, 2020 at 7:48 AM •
The Swiss cryptography firm Crypto AG sold equipment to governments and militaries around the world for decades after World War II. They were owned by the CIA:
But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.
This isn’t really news. We have long known that Crypto AG was backdooring crypto equipment for the Americans. What is new is the formerly classified documents describing the details:
The decades-long arrangement, among the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War, is laid bare in a classified, comprehensive CIA history of the operation obtained by The Washington Post and ZDF, a German public broadcaster, in a joint reporting project.
The account identifies the CIA officers who ran the program and the company executives entrusted to execute it. It traces the origin of the venture as well as the internal conflicts that nearly derailed it. It describes how the United States and its allies exploited other nations’ gullibility for years, taking their money and stealing their secrets.
The operation, known first by the code name “Thesaurus” and later “Rubicon,” ranks among the most audacious in CIA history.
EDITED TO ADD: More news articles. And a 1995 story on this. It’s not new news.
Posted on February 11, 2020 at 10:42 AM •
Jim Sanborn, who designed the Kryptos sculpture in a CIA courtyard, has released another clue to the still-unsolved part 4. I think he’s getting tired of waiting.
Did we mention Mr. Sanborn is 74?
Holding on to one of the world’s most enticing secrets can be stressful. Some would-be codebreakers have appeared at his home.
Many felt they had solved the puzzle, and wanted to check with Mr. Sanborn. Sometimes forcefully. Sometimes, in person.
Elonka Dunin, a game developer and consultant who has created a rich page of background information on the sculpture and oversees the best known online community of thousands of Kryptos fans, said that some who contact her (sometimes also at home) are obsessive and appear to have tipped into mental illness. “I am always gentle to them and do my best to listen to them,” she said.
Mr. Sanborn has set up systems to allow people to check their proposed solutions without having to contact him directly. The most recent incarnation is an email-based process with a fee of $50 to submit a potential solution. He receives regular inquiries, so far none of them successful.
The ongoing process is exhausting, he said, adding “It’s not something I thought I would be doing 30 years on.”
Another news article.
EDITED TO ADD (2/13): Another article.
Posted on February 6, 2020 at 6:14 AM •
Interesting story of a CIA intelligence network in China that was exposed partly because of a computer security failure:
Although they used some of the same coding, the interim system and the main covert communication platform used in China at this time were supposed to be clearly separated. In theory, if the interim system were discovered or turned over to Chinese intelligence, people using the main system would still be protected — and there would be no way to trace the communication back to the CIA. But the CIA’s interim system contained a technical error: It connected back architecturally to the CIA’s main covert communications platform. When the compromise was suspected, the FBI and NSA both ran “penetration tests” to determine the security of the interim system. They found that cyber experts with access to the interim system could also access the broader covert communications system the agency was using to interact with its vetted sources, according to the former officials.
In the words of one of the former officials, the CIA had “fucked up the firewall” between the two systems.
U.S. intelligence officers were also able to identify digital links between the covert communications system and the U.S. government itself, according to one former official — links the Chinese agencies almost certainly found as well. These digital links would have made it relatively easy for China to deduce that the covert communications system was being used by the CIA. In fact, some of these links pointed back to parts of the CIA’s own website, according to the former official.
People died because of that mistake.
The moral — which is to go back to pre-computer systems in these high-risk sophisticated-adversary circumstances — is the right one, I think.
Posted on August 29, 2018 at 8:10 AM •
Jim Risen writes a long and interesting article about his battles with the US government and the New York Times to report government secrets.
Posted on January 16, 2018 at 6:58 AM •
WikiLeaks has published CherryBlossom, the CIA’s program to hack into wireless routers. The program is about a decade old.
Four good news articles. Five. And a list of vulnerable routers.
Posted on June 28, 2017 at 5:35 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.